You are on page 1of 186


International Network for Terrestrial Research and Monitoring in the Arctic

Stories of Arctic Science

1 Sverdrup Research Station INTERACT is a circumarctic network of terrestrial field bases in Arctic, alpine
2 Netherlands’ Arctic Station and neighbouring forested areas. The network is funded for 2011-2015 by
3 UK Arctic Research Station EU’s Seventh Framework Programme as “Integrating Activity” under the theme
4 CNR Arctic Station “Dirigibile Italia” “Research Infrastructures for Polar Research”.
5 Czech Arctic Research Station of Josef Svoboda
6 Polish Polar Station Hornsund INTERACT has an overarching concept of strategically sampling the great en-
7 Finse Alpine Research Centre vironmental variation throughout northern areas. This concept is illustrated in
8 Bioforsk Svanhovd Research Station the graphic below which shows the location of the INTERACT Stations within
9 Svartberget Research Station environmental space, defined by temperature and precipitation ranges. Much
10 Tarfala Research Station of research within this book seeks to understand how this environmental
11 Abisko Scientific Research Station space is changing.
12 Kilpisjärvi Biological Station
13 Kevo Subarctic Research Station
14 Värriö Subarctic Research Station Mean annual air temperature (°C)
15 Pallas-Sodankylä Stations
16 Kolari Research Unit -20 69
(-29 °C)
17 Oulanka Research Station Location of INTERACT Stations in “environmental space”
-18 55
18 Kainuu Fisheries Research Station
19 Hyytiälä Forest Research Station (SMEAR II) 53
20 Alpine Research and Education Station Furka 56
21 Station Hintereis -14 51
22 Sonnblick Observatory 47 57 38

Zone of potential glaciation

23 Krkonoše Mountains National Park -12
24 Karkonosze National Park 43 42 37
41 40
25 M&M Kłapa Research Station -10 39 64
26 Khibiny Educational and Scientific Station 70 35
27 Beliy Island Research Station -8 48 34
50 Continuous permafrost
28 Labytnangi Ecological Research Station 1 2+3+4
-6 5 22
29 Mukhrino Field Station 28 30
30 Numto Park Station 33
6 59 61 Discontinuous permafrost
31 Kajbasovo Research Station 49 66 32 62 10 MEA
21 N EQ
32 Khanymey Research Station 12 58+60+63 UILIB
-2 13 2946 68 RIUM
33 Aktru Research Station 31 67 20 LINE O
34 Igarka Geocryology Laboratory
11 8 14 Sporadic permafrost N G L AC
0 65 IERS (EL
26 36 15 17 23+24 A)
35 Evenkian Field Station No permafrost
16 18 7
36 International Ecological Educational 2 9

Center ”Istomino” 73 25
37 Willem Barents Biological Station 4 74 19
38 Research Station Samoylov Island 76
39 Spasskaya Pad Scientific Forest Station 6 54
40 Elgeeii Scientific Forest Station
41 Chokurdakh Scientific Tundra Station
42 Orotuk Field Station
43 North-East Science Station 10
44 Avachinsky Volcano Field Station 0 500 1000 1500 2000 2500 3000 Mean annual
45 Meinypil’gyno Community Based Biological Station (mm w.eq.)
46 Adygine Research Station
47 Barrow Arctic Research Center/
Barrow Environmental Observatory Location of INTERACT Stations
48 Toolik Field Station
49 Kluane Lake Research Station 44
50 Western Arctic Research Centre
51 Canadian High Arctic Research Station
52 M’Clintock Channel Polar Research Cabins 45 42
53 Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station
USA 40
54 Polar Environment Atmospheric 49 48
47 43 39
Research Laboratory 41
55 CEN Ward Hunt Island Research Station
56 CEN Bylot Island Field Station 38 36
57 Igloolik Research Center
58 CEN Salluit Research Station 51 35
59 CEN Boniface River Field Station 52
60 CEN Umiujaq Research Station 53 54
55 34 33
61 CEN Whapmagoostui-Kuujjuarapik 57 56 RUSSIA
Research Station 27 31 32
60 59 58
62 CEN Radisson Ecological Research Station 64 71 SVALBARD 28 30
62 61
63 CEN Clearwater Lake Research Station 63 1 45 46
64 Nunavut Research Institute 66 70 6 KYRGYZ
65 Labrador Institute Research Station 65 67 68 13 8
12 15 26
66 Arctic Station 11 14
16 17
67 Greenland Institute of Natural Resources 72 73 10 18
68 Sermilik Research Station ICELAND 75 9 FINLAND
69 EGRIP Field Station FAROE
70 Zackenberg Research Station 76 7
71 Villum Research Station UNITED POLAND
72 Sudurnes Science and Learning Center KINGDOM 24 25
73 Litla-Skard AUSTRIA 23
21 22 CZECH
75 Faroe Islands Nature Investigation
76 ECN Cairngorms
Stories of Arctic Science
Terry V. Callaghan
Hannele Savela
INTERACT Stories of Arctic Science

Edited by:
Terry V. Callaghan1,2,3 & Hannele Savela4

Elmer Topp-Jørgensen5, Margareta Johansson1,
Kirsi Latola4, Morten Rasch6 & Luisella Bianco7

T he Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
University of Sheffield, UK
Tomsk State University, Russian Federation
Thule Institute, University of Oulu, Finland
Department of Bioscience, Aarhus University,
Department for Geosciences and Natural Resource
Management, University of Copenhagen, Denmark
CLU, Italy

Published 2015, First edition

Cover photo: Carsten Egevang/

Front cover, small photos (left to right):
Konstanze Piel, David Hik, Marco Graziano, Liane G.
Benning and Jonas Åkerman. Back cover, small photos:
J. Edward Scofield and Morten Rasch.

Graphic design:
Juana Jacobsen & Kathe Møgelvang,
AU Bioscience Graphics Group, Aarhus University

Aarhus University,
DCE – Danish Centre for Environment and Energy

INTERACT 2015. INTERACT Stories of Arctic Science.
Eds.: Callaghan, T.V. and Savela, H. DCE – Danish
Centre for Environment and Energy, Aarhus University,
Denmark, 180 p.

Printed in Denmark 2015 by Rosendahl-Schultz Grafisk

ISBN 978-87-93129-11-5

The book is available as PDF via above DOI and on the

INTERACT website

The printing of this book has been made possible by

means provided by INTERACT, The European Commis-
sion and Tomsk State University.
Carsten Egevang/
Her Royal Highness
Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden
I have had the privilege to make several trips to the Arctic to experience
its remarkable nature and wild life, meeting with local residents as well
as learning first-hand from researchers working in the field. This experi-
ence has given me a deeper appreciation of the importance of under-
standing and protecting this northern frontier of the planet Earth.
Most importantly, the breadth of research activities, and the long term
commitments to observations and measurements are critical for pro-
viding solutions to how to predict, prevent, adapt to and mitigate the
Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Victoria
environmental changes. During my visits to Abisko, and other research of Sweden and INTERACT Coordinator Terry
stations in the North I have also come to understand the importance of V. Callaghan pictured at Abisko Scientific
good infrastructure and state-of-the-art technology. Research Station in Sweden (Peter Rosen).

The INTERACT network connects research stations in 17 countries

and enables experience and knowledge to be shared. These collective
efforts are well reflected in this book. It presents short research stories
from around the Arctic and provides a source of knowledge about the
fundamental environmental issues of global concern that are taking
place there. These stories give a wealth of information about Arctic sci-
ence in a format which hopefully will inspire new generations of Arctic
scientists as well as providing decision makers, teachers and interested
readers with essential information.
My hope is that like me you will find this book “INTERACT Stories of
Arctic Science” stimulating and a link to further insights and a broader
appreciation of the Arctic and its role in a global context.

Katrine Raundrup

Foreword . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8

Telling stories of Arctic science . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10

What and where is the Arctic? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
Why produce a book about Arctic research? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
Why write stories? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
What is INTERACT’s role? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18
How to use this book? .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19
Learning more.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20

1 Landscapes and land-forming processes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Evaluating radar remote sensing data for Arctic tundra landscapes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The impact of glacial erosion on the bedrock plains of northern Fennoscandia . . . . . . . . .
1.3 Past climate of the Faroe Islands during the late glacial period .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 38
1.4 Moraine internal structure and form .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 40
1.5 Outburst flood characteristics of a glacier-dammed lake in Northeast Greenland .. . . . . . 42

2 Permafrost .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The influence of permafrost on glacial meltwater . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Plant community controls on thawing permafrost soils and sediment transfer .. . . . . . . . .
2.3 Greenhouse gas dynamics in a changing sub-Arctic landscape . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 58
2.4 Stable isotopes as indicators of environmental change . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 60
2.5 Validation of soil moisture data from the Lena Delta retrieved by satellite . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 62

3 Snow and ice .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

3.1 How snow insulates permafrost soils . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
3.2 Black Carbon and its radiative impact in a Svalbard snowpack . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
3.3 Adaptations and survival of microorganisms on snow and ice . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 76
3.4 Glacier monitoring in Southeast Greenland .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 78
3.5 Relationships between glacier dynamics and climate .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 80
3.6 Examining the effect of changes in plateau icefield mass balance
on ice margin retreat patterns and depositional processes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 82
3.7 Ground penetrating radar investigation of a Norwegian glacier’s
marginal ice conditions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 84
4 Land-atmosphere linkages . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 86
Energy exchange in the Arctic – a “butterfly effect” for the global climate? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 92
Patterns of carbon storage in a Siberian permafrost landscape . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 94
4.3 How does increasing CO2 affect soil microbial diversity and carbon fluxes? . . . . . . . . . . . . . 96
4.4 Fluxes of biogenic volatile organic compounds from plants in Greenland . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 98
4.5 Controls on volatile organic compound emissions from northern plants . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 100

5 Life on Arctic lands . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 102

5.1 Recent influence of climate on shrub growth around the North‐Atlantic Region .. . . . . . .
5.2 Patterns of insect herbivory along altitudinal gradients in a polar region . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
5.3 Grass seed “hitchhikers” – grass‐endophyte symbiosis across the latitudes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 116
5.4 Consequence of climate change on the fate of Arctic-alpine bumblebees . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 118
5.5 Is rodent-borne Ljungan virus responsible for mortality
in migrating Norwegian lemmings (Lemmus lemmus)? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 120
5.6 High Arctic food webs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 122
5.7 How predator-prey interactions impact distribution and breeding systems
of high Arctic waders under current climate change . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 124

6 Life in cold waters .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 126

6.1 Reconstructing Holocene temperatures .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
6.2 Carbon processing in Arctic lakes when vegetation changes on land . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
6.3 Acidity and origin of dissolved organic carbon in different vegetation zones .. . . . . . . . . . . 140
6.4 Finding cold-adapted bacteria to combat organic pollutants in the Arctic .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 142
6.5 A microbial ride around the Arctic . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 144
6.6 Microbial biodiversity in polar lake ecosystems:
why is it different at the North and South Pole? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 146

7 People in the North . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 148

Dynamic risk management for an Artic region .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Assessing and valuing ecosystem services in the Abisko area . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
7.3 Ecosystem service social assessments in extreme environments .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 160
7.4 Assessment of boreal forest ecosystem services at two Russian sites . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 162
7.5 Working with local communities to quantify Arctic ecosystem services . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 164
7.6 Adapting to changing permafrost in Salluit, Canada . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 166

Appendix .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 170

The Arctic is a vast area with beautiful unspoiled landscapes and a stunning but fragile bio-
diversity. The Arctic is home to Indigenous Peoples who have been and to a great extent still
are depending on resources from the natural environment. In the past decade, the Arctic has
gained widespread attention from scientists, the public and politicians because of the rapid
changes occurring there. The Arctic’s climate is changing faster than climate elsewhere while
at the same time many other changes are taking place. These include globalization, exploi-
tation of renewable and non-renewable resources and dramatically increased access. All of
these changes provide opportunities as well as challenges to the residents of the Arctic. How-
ever, the Arctic is not isolated: the changes occurring in the Arctic have effects on the rest of
the world. Retreating glaciers and shrinking ice caps increase global sea level rise that threat-
ens many coastal areas and the people that live there, and carbon-based greenhouse gases
released from thawing permafrost could potentially amplify global warming. However, new
transport routes could lead to better access for exploiting new resources.

To maximize the opportunities at the same time as responding to challenges requires a well-
developed observational record of environmental change together with process understanding
that will allow us to predict future changes. Unfortunately, however, the Arctic lands are vast and
the human population is small. It is therefore a challenge to document and predict the changes.

In 2001, a small group of nine research stations in the European Arctic came together to share
experiences and to develop a more efficient framework for observation and research. This
SCANNET network was financed by the European Commission’s 5th Framework Programme.
Since then, SCANNET has grown, and in 2010 the network consisted of 32 research stations.
Together with some research institutions outside the Arctic, the research stations proposed a
new collaborative project to the European Commission’s 7th Framework Programme. This was
the start of INTERACT.

INTERACT started in 2010 as a circumarctic network of 32 terrestrial field bases in Arctic and
northern alpine areas of Europe, Asia and North America. However, by 2015, it had grown to 76
research stations. Its main objective is to build capacity for identifying, understanding, predict-
ing and responding to diverse environmental changes throughout the wide environmental
and land-use envelopes of the Arctic. Together, the INTERACT stations host many thousands
of scientists from around the world working in multiple disciplines, and INTERACT collaborates
with many research consortia and international research and monitoring networks. This book
presents a fraction of the research projects undertaken at INTERACT stations and shows the
great span of scientific activities and the thrilling adventures endured by the visiting scientists.

It is a pleasure to thank all those who were involved in the production of the book and we hope
it can educate and inspire the general public and the next generation of scientists to follow in
the footsteps of more experienced researchers involved in Arctic science.

On behalf of INTERACT

Terry V. Callaghan1,2,3, Coordinator of INTERACT

Hannele Savela4, Transnational Access Coordinator of INTERACT
Margareta Johansson1, Executive Secretary of INTERACT

T he Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Sweden
University of Sheffield, UK
Tomsk State University, Russian Federation
Thule Institute, University of Oulu, Finland
Christian Körner


Telling stories
of Arctic science

Terry V. Callaghan & Hannele Savela


This book is about research into the changing environment
of Arctic lands. Everyone has pre-conceived ideas of what the
Arctic is and where it is: it is north, it is cold, it is isolated, it is
dark and there are few people living there – it is an area of
great barren lands covered by ice and snow. However, the Arc-
tic is very diverse and it is very difficult to define. Somewhat
surprisingly, definitions depend on the perspective of a scien-
tific discipline or even on government decisions.

Northern lights in October on

Lake Dlinnoe, Khibiny Mountains,
Kola Peninsula, Russia
(Valentin Zhiganov).

Figure 1.  Polar climates are
fundamentally controlled by the Earth’s
tilted axis. At midnight during the
summer solstice, the Arctic experiences
midnight sun whereas during the winter
solstice, the Sun is below the horizon at
Graphic by Hannele Heikkilä-Tuomaala.

Astronomically, the Arctic is the geographic area north of At 70° N in northern Norway, Sweden and Finland, there are
66.7° N (The Arctic Circle). Beyond that latitude, the Sun is vis- birch forests and even agriculture. In complete contrast, polar
ible at mid-night on mid-summer’s day and cannot be seen bears and tundra (treeless areas) are found at 58° N in Canada
above the horizon at mid-day on mid-winter’s day. These dis- – a latitude south of Stockholm, Helsinki and St. Petersburg!
tinct patterns of daylight lead to long, cold winters and brief (Figure 2) Why? The reason for the environmental contrasts are
warm summers (Figure 1). However, a tour around the Arctic caused by differences in climate which in turn, are caused by
teaches us that climate and environmental conditions vary ocean currents (including the Gulf Stream) that bring warm
enormously, even at the same latitude, depending on where waters from the tropics along the eastern seaboard of the North
we are. Atlantic Ocean thereby warming the lands as far east as the



Figure 2.  Scenery from two locations of similar latitude Figure 3.  An environmental definition of the Arctic is the
(a) Wapusk National Park, Manitoba, Canada, 57 °N (Ansgar latitudinal treeline beyond which trees cannot grow or grow
Falk/Wikimedia Commons /Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic), as shrubs (Sergey Kirpotin).
(b) Helsinki, Finland, 60 °N (Flaneurin/Flickr/ CC BY-NC 2.0).

western Russian Arctic. At the same time, cold currents return very important because it separates the major “biomes” (vege-
along the eastern Canadian seaboard thereby cooling the land. tation-climate zones) of the great coniferous boreal forest (the
taiga) from the Arctic tundra and takes into account all those
Another difference in climate depends on distance to an local effects that modify the general climate north and south
ocean. Land areas react much more quickly to changing of the Arctic Circle. North of the treeline, there are relatively
temperatures than oceans. This results in smaller differences few plant species, production is slow, land use is not intensive
in temperature between summer and winter in islands and and there are few people and only a few cities. South of the
coastal areas than in interior land masses where temperatures treeline, we find agriculture, forestry and major cities such as
differ by as much as the record of 100 °C (from +30 °C in sum- capitals.
mer to -70 °C in winter at Verkhoyansk in the Sakha Republic,
Russia). Temperatures also decrease with height above sea In this book, we use a definition of the Arctic in the environ-
level so high mountain areas can be “Arctic-like”, for example mental sense but we do not exclude the areas further south.
with glaciers. Elevation therefore “blurs” the southern bound- We cannot understand what is going on in one area when
ary of the Arctic. climate is warming without knowing the processes in neigh-
bouring southern areas. Although environmental issues
Environmental researchers tend to define the Arctic as the are also important in the atmosphere and at sea, the stories
area north of the latitudinal treeline. This definition uses a included in this book focus on research on land, including
natural phenomenon as an indicator – the severity of climate frozen ground, lakes and ponds; from polar deserts in the far
that prevents trees from growing. The treeline (Figure 3) is North to the vast forests of the taiga in the South (Figure 4).

Figure 4.  This book includes

stories of science from Arctic
landscapes including frozen
ground, lakes and ponds, from
polar deserts in (a) the far North
to (b) the vast forests of the taiga
in the South ((a) Warwick F. Vincent,
(b) Sergey Kirpotin)).



Figure 5.  During the last Ice Age, giant herbivores and their predators inhabited vast Arctic plains, many of which are now
submerged under the Arctic Ocean (Mauricio Antón/Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons Attribution 25 Generic).


Like in other areas of the world, the landscapes of the Arctic frozen ground) developed surface features such as patterned
are ever-changing. Eighteen thousand years ago, during the ground and thaw lakes, and preserved carbon captured by
last Ice Age, ice sheets were at their greatest extent. Most plants over millennia (Figure 6). However, not all areas of the
of North America, Europe and western Russia were covered Arctic were covered by ice: parts of Alaska and large areas of
by ice sheets, sea level was 120 m lower than today, tundra central and eastern Russia remained ice-free because of a dry
ecosystems stretched much further to the north than today, climate. In these areas, deep organic (carbon-rich) soils accu-
and giant herbivores (vegetation-eating animals such as the mulated mainly through water- and wind-related sedimenta-
woolly mammoths) and their predators (flesh-eating animals tion processes. Learning about these past processes not only
such as sabre-toothed tigers and lions) inhabited the vast tun- helps us to understand how Arctic landscapes were formed,
dra and tundra-steppe plains (Figure 5). As the ice retreated, but gives us an understanding of how these landscapes might
its marks on the landscape were revealed: scars on bedrock, also change in the future. Past processes can also help us to
moraines of debris that glaciers had carried to their fronts, understand how future changes might amplify climate warm-
and rivers, streams, soil and vegetation where there was once ing, for example through the release of carbon preserved in
ice. Vast lowland areas underlain by permafrost (permanently soils as a greenhouse gas to the atmosphere (Figure 7).

Figure 6.  Vast lowland areas underlain

by permafrost (permanently frozen
ground) developed surface features such
as palsas, patterned ground and thaw
lakes, and preserved carbon captured by
plants over millennia (Anna Konopzcak).

Figure 7.  Tower measuring exchanges of
carbon dioxide between the land surface
and atmosphere (Torben R. Christensen).

Figure 8.  Amplified temperature Change 1960–2014

warming in the Arctic (NASA GISS, retrieved

Zonal Mean

–90 –60 –30 0 30 60 90

–4.1 –4 –2 –1 –0.5 –0.2 0.2 0.5 1 2 4 4.1

Currently, the environment and ecology of the Arctic and active layer thickness (the top layer of soil above permafrost
neighbouring territories are changing dramatically. Sev- that freezes and thaws each year) and they have affected the
eral different factors are occurring together such as climate dynamics of lake and pond formation and drainage. These
change, globalisation of economies and increased use of changes affect the ecology of the Arctic and ecosystem ser-
resources. The changes have been studied in comprehen- vices to people. Three types of ecosystem services are “provi-
sive international studies (called assessments) such as the sioning” (for example services that supply food), “regulatory”
Arctic Climate Impacts Assessment (ACIA: (services that affect water sources and climate) and “cultural”
in 2005, the Snow, Water, Ice, Permafrost in the Arctic Report (services that affect sense of identity) (Millennium Assessment
(SWIPA: in 2011, the Polar Chapter in of Ecosystems,
the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment
(IPCC: of 2014, and the Arctic Biodiversity Assess- Evidence for ecological changes on land comes from remote
ment (Meltofte and others 2013). sensing, from ground-based measurements around the Arc-
tic and local observations (Figure 9). Information on changes
Climate warming in the Arctic is occurring at over twice the is extremely important for local residents who must adapt
rate as global warming: between 1960 and 2011 mean annual to changes in their physical environment and in ecosystem
temperatures in the Arctic have risen up to 4 °C (Figure 8) and services they have previously relied on (Figure 10). However,
by the end of the current century they are expected to increase the changes in the Arctic also have great implications for the
up to 5 °C, compared with present. The recent changes have global community as the Arctic is linked with the rest of the
resulted in decreases in sea ice extent and thickness, ice vol- Earth. Historically, processes called feedbacks from Arctic lands
ume stored in glaciers and snow cover duration. They have to the global climate systems have been cooling the planet.
also resulted in increases of permafrost temperature and However, during warming there is concern that changes in

Figure 9.  Information on ecosystem change comes
from satellite images (Xu and others 2013) and
ground observations. Both methods show change,
and surprisingly no change (Callaghan and others
2013; Elmerdorf and others 2012). The dots on the
map represent the INTERACT stations.



90° N

75° N

60° N
45° N

Trend in seasonality with respect to 1982 (% per decade)

>2 1 0 –1 –2 –2.9 –3.9 –4.8 –5.7 –6.5 –7.4 2009

<–2 –1 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 >8
Trend in PAP mean NDVI respect to 1982 (% per decade)

(a) (b)

the cooling effects will lead to increased global warming. The fully with it, is becoming ever more important as is the need to
processes leading to these effects include storage and release work together across borders –a key feature of the INTERACT
of carbon in tundra soils, and changes in the ways in which network of friends that has produced this book.
the Arctic landscape reflects heat energy from the Sun when
the duration of snow and sea ice decreases and tall vegeta- WHY WRITE STORIES?
tion invades low tundra. Also, loss of ice on land and drainage There are an increasing number of books, newspaper and mag-
of water from glaciers and ice sheets contribute to increases azine articles and scientific papers produced about the Arctic,
in sea level rise. It has been estimated that about 140 million reflecting the growing interest by the public, students, scien-
people will suffer from coastal flooding with a sea level rise of tists and politicians. However, they range from very technical
44 cm (assuming no remedial action) and this is expected to books written for specialists to popular natural history books
take place within the next 50 years (Figure 10). written for the public. Here, we try to produce something of
interest to all of these audiences. Stunning pictures provide
The changes that are occurring in the Arctic provide both immediate access to the spectacular and diverse environ-
opportunities and challenges to Arctic residents and the ments of the Arctic, its wildlife and people; overviews provide
global population. Challenges to the local population include accessible and up-to-date introductions to complex environ-
changes in traditional ecosystem services such as access to mental issues that will inform students and the general public;
food, insecure travel conditions, potential spread of disease numerous short stories concisely present on-going research
and species invading from the South, while the challenges activities in easy-to-understand language to inform the public
to the global population are dominated by increasing sea and even experts of a wide range of current research activi-
level and possible displacement of substantial populations. ties and important topics being studied in the Arctic. Arctic
In contrast, opportunities to Arctic residents include possible research is also about adventures in beautiful areas. To reflect
introduction of forestry and agriculture while opportunities to this, we have added some words in each science story about
the global community include improved access to oil and gas the excitement of working in the Arctic (Figure 11).
and more cost-effective shipping routes between Europe and
Asia. Unfortunately, the challenges and opportunities are dis- We hope that this book will not just inform as many people as
tributed unevenly between disadvantaged populations and possible, but that it will also inspire you to become involved in
trans-border corporations. Such inequalities together with protecting this unique environment – either indirectly by tak-
trans-border problems of access to resources and their future ing measures to reduce our carbon footprints, or directly by
availability are likely to have future geo-political implications, becoming involved in citizen science (
and already some minor geo-political disputes have arisen in outreach2/local-engagement/interact-examples/). We also
the North. Understanding change, so that we can live peace- hope the book will be an encouragement to decision makers

Figure 10.  Arctic

change affects local
people and the global
community (Arctic
fishing (a): EHRENBERG
CC BY-SA 2.0. Flooding (b):
Stockbyte/World Bank/
Flickr/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Figure 11.  Adventure

– polar bear near the
solarimeters by the
Polish Polar Station
Hornsund (• 6),
in Svalbard
(Marek Szymocha).

to be more active in protecting the Arctic and in ensuring that research on the ground and sophisticated experiments that
any development in this fragile area will be sympathetic to the require research station facilities. Also, it is becoming evi-
environment, its peoples and its wildlife. Also, we hope the dent that short-term extreme events such as rain in winter
book and its stories, photographs and adventures, will excite rather than snow, can override long-term trends. These winter
and help to recruit the next generation of Arctic researchers. events kill animals and plants but unfortunately, we cannot
Remember, the Arctic is sparsely populated, is changing rap- guarantee being in the right place at the right time to observe
idly and we need to understand and value the importance of and understand a short-lived, yet important extreme event.
what we have before it changes for ever. Finally, for thousands Perhaps surprisingly, there is a large variability in response
of years, the Arctic’s resilient Indigenous Peoples have shared of ecological processes to climate warming throughout the
their extremely important knowledge from generation to whole Arctic and even within small areas of the Arctic. As
generation by telling stories: we have learned from them and knowledge-based management of environment, biodiversity
adopted this highly successful method of communication in and resources depends on identifying, understanding and
this book (Figure 12). predicting changes, low observing power and even lower pre-
dictive power in the Arctic currently limits effective manage-
The research in this book was supported and facilitated by
INTERACT (, an EU-funded Network for The INTERACT research stations play a fundamental role in
Terrestrial Research and Monitoring in the Arctic with contri- improving our knowledge on environmental change and its
butions from Canada and the USA. The main building blocks causes and consequences in the Arctic and neighbouring
of INTERACT are 76 research stations located throughout all areas. The stations do this by running long-term monitoring
the Arctic countries and many neighbouring countries with programmes – some of which have been operating for over
mountains and/or forests (Figure 9). These research stations 100 years – and by hosting researchers from around the world
are described in a catalogue available on the INTERACT web who visit the stations to carry out intensive studies, measure-
site ( ments and experiments (
tions/station-catalogue/). INTERACT crosses all national bor- ers-forum/publications/research-and-monitoring/ (Figure 13).
ders in the North and is enthusiastically endorsed at high INTERACT monitoring and research volume). The stations are
political levels while working with many Arctic and global therefore “hot spots” of research activity within remote, harsh
environmental organisations. Furthermore, INTERACT is environments. By networking, the stations share experiences
unique in establishing contacts among northern cultures and (
many sectors of society. station-management/) so that measurements throughout
the network can be made in the same way and compared.
Despite the importance of the changes taking place in the Together, the stations strategically sample the wide “environ-
Arctic, our observing power is very low as the Arctic is vast mental envelope” of the North (the sum of all the varied envi-
and sparsely populated. Although there are many ways of ronments found in the Arctic and neighbouring territories). In
identifying environmental change in the North, for example addition, the stations also sample the diverse changes – and
by analysing images from satellites, a deep understanding sometimes surprisingly the lack of changes – that are occur-
of the changes is often only possible from local knowledge, ring throughout the Arctic (Figure 9).

Figure 12.  Story telling by Arctic

Peoples passes knowledge
and skills down through the
generations. The Sámi family
Blind from the Laevas Sameby
(Sámi village) prepares firewood
at their summer village for next
summer’s needs (Anna Sarri).

Figure 13.  Intensive experiments
can only be carried out in harsh
conditions with appropriate
infrastructure such as that
provided by INTERACT research
stations (Adam Nawrot).

INTERACT operates by bringing station managers together in store and release greenhouse gases, the ecology of land and
a Station Managers’ Forum, by contributing to international freshwater and eventually the Peoples of the Arctic. Of course
organisations to communicate and improve science, and by all of these topics are interconnected and together contrib-
developing new technologies to improve the way we moni- ute to the “Arctic System” and this, in turn, is part of the “Earth
tor the environment and make the data and results available. System”. To aid communication we refer the reader wherever
In addition, INTERACT gives outreach at all levels, from young possible to relevant connections between sections of the
school children to state leaders, and provides opportuni- book.
ties to researchers, particularly early career scientists, to visit
and work at research stations in harsh and often dangerous Each section starts with an overview written by experts on the
environments, but in comparatively safe working conditions topic. The language is for non-experts and there is an abun-
established by experienced station staff (Figure 11). This book dance of illustrations. After the overviews, there is a series of
is an important part of INTERACT’s outreach activities and it between 5 and 7 individual stories on a particular detailed
is based largely on the INTERACT Transnational Access pro- aspect of science written by active researchers. Each story is
gramme that enables many researchers to visit some of INTER- presented in a standard two-page spread for ease of under-
ACT’s research stations (Figure 14). Between 2011 and 2014, standing. Contact details and further information sources are
INTERACT funded 500 researchers to visit research stations in given for those who want to know more. A red dot and a num-
every Arctic country and many neighbouring countries. This ber (• #) refers to the location of the station that can be seen on
book could not include stories from all the projects that were the back side of the front cover flap.
funded. Instead, we have chosen stories that give an indica-
tion of the vast range of studies that were supported and that The book cannot of course cover all of the research in the Arc-
contribute importantly to our improved understanding of the tic but it does provide an introduction to the most pressing
North. All TA projects are listed in the Appendix and described issues on land. Importantly, and for potential future scientists
at in particular, it gives snapshots of how research is done and
the field conditions that researchers both endure and enjoy.
HOW TO USE THIS BOOK? On the other hand, for the specialist, a complete list of envi-
The book is divided into seven sections that take the reader ronmental research and monitoring activities at INTERACT
on a journey of understanding through the Arctic. It includes research stations since the year 2000 can be found at eu-inter-
the processes that form the landscapes, the frozen glaciers
and permafrost environments, the ground processes that

Figure 14.  INTERACT’s Transnational Access program supported 500 scientists from 19 countries to work at 24 research stations
located all over the Arctic for 7300 days in 2011-2015 (Hannele Heikkilä-Tuomaala).

The last story in the book shows how scientific research – in This book is an added-value project to the EU Framework Pro-
this case studies of permafrost – is essential to calculate the gramme 7 award to INTERACT (grant number 262693), International
vulnerability of settlements in the Arctic to climate change. Network for Terrestrial Research and Monitoring in the Arctic. Most
Only with this type of knowledge can communities adapt to of it is based on a large, competitive scheme of Transnational Access
support to researchers to visit research stations. This ambitious
the changes that are to come.
but successful scheme was coordinated by Kirsi Latola and Han-
LEARNING MORE nele Savela at the Thule Institute at the University of Oulu, Finland.
Although most of the funding was contributed by the INTERACT
A book such as this cannot avoid the use of specific terminol- award, important contributions were made by Centre d’Études
ogy but we try to use it carefully and try to explain the terms Nordiques, Laval University, Quebec, Canada, The Arctic Institute of
we use. Specific terms are denoted by italicised font at its first North America (AINA), University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada and
mention in each section and then explained in parentheses the National Science Foundation, Washington, USA. Altogether
or in an on-line glossary of terms and a supporting photo gal- 138 researchers from 17 countries have enthusiastically given their
lery at For educators, more information time to contributing stories, experts have produced overviews and
can be obtained by direct contact with INTERACT or authors reviewed applications for the Transnational Access, and Hannele
of this book. Heikkilä-Tuomaala from University of Oulu and the Arview company
funded by Tomsk State University have produced graphics. In the
The contents of the book will also be presented in an on-line background, the managers of the remote research stations have
worked tirelessly and used their great skills to provide the safe and
distance learning course “The Changing Arctic Landscape”
productive environments in which the researchers have operated.
arranged by Tomsk State University (Russia), INTERACT and
The idea for the book was developed by the authors together with
the University of the Arctic. More details will be available on
an INTERACT editorial team of Elmer Topp-Jørgensen, Margareta
the web pages of these institutions. In addition, it is intended
Johansson, Morten Rasch and Kirsi Latola, and this team also
to produce this book as an e-book that helps communication reviewed the typescript. In addition, the section overview authors
even more by presenting video clips and animations of key contributed to editing the stories in their sections. Elmer Topp-
environmental processes and immediate links via internet to Jørgensen guided the final production process and Juana Jacobsen
a glossary of terms and a photo-gallery. While this first edition developed the very attractive layout. Terry V. Callaghan and Hannele
is produced in English, a Russian translation will be available Savela at the Thule Institute, University of Oulu edited and coordi-
in early 2016. nated the complete work.

Further information and references
Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme 2005. Arctic Climate Impacts Assess-
INTERACT ment, Cambridge University Press, 1042 pp.
Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme 2011. Snow, Water, Ice and Permafrost
Terry V. Callaghan in the Arctic (SWIPA): Climate Change and the Cryosphere. Arctic Monitoring and
Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Assessment Programme, Oslo, Norway, xii + 538 pp.
PO Box 50005, Stockholm, Sweden Callaghan, T.V., C. Jonasson, C., Thierfelder, T. and others 2013. Ecosystem change
Dept. of Animal and Plant Sciences, and stability over multiple decades in the Swedish subarctic: complex processes
Sheffield University, UK
and multiple drivers. Phil Trans R Soc B. 368: 20120488.
National Research Tomsk Stated University,
36, Lenin Ave., Tomsk, 634050, Russia
Callaghan, T.V., Myneni, R., Xu, A. and Johansson, M. 2014. The Age of the Arctic: Chal-
Hannele Savela lenges and Opportunities in Arctic and Global Communities. In: A. Karlqvist and E.
Thule Institute, University of Oulu, Kessler (eds.) Redrawing the Map. Climate, Human Migration, Food Security – the 11th
PO Box 7300, Oulu, Finland Royal Colloquium, May 2013. 79-86.
Church, J.A. 2007. Ice and Sea-level Change. Pp. 153-180 In: UNEP/GRID-Arendal (Eds).
Global Outlook for Ice & Snow. UNEP, Nairobe, Kenya, 235 pp.
Hassan, R., Scholes, R. and Ash, N. (eds). 2005. Ecosystems and human well-being: cur-
rent state and trends, Millennium Assessment of Ecosystems Volume 1. Island Press,
Washington, 917 pp.
Elmendorf, S., Henry, G.H.R., Hollister, R.D. and others 2012. Plot-scale evidence of tun-
dra vegetation change and links to recent summer warming Nature Climate Change
2,453–457. Doi:10.1038/nclimate1465.
INTERACT Station Catalogue 2015,
INTERACT Management planning for arctic and northern alpine research stations –
Examples of good practices,
INTERACT Monitoring and Research Report,
Meltofte, H., Josefsson, A.B. and Payer, D. 2013. Arctic Biodiversity Assessment – Status
and trends in Arctic Biodiversity. CAFF. ISBN: 978-9935-431-
Nymand Larsen, J., Anisimov, O.A., Constable, A. and others 2015. Chapter 28 Polar
Regions. IPCC 5th Assessment,
Xu, L., Myneni, R.B., Chapin III and others 2013. Temperature and Vegetation Seasonal-
ity Diminishment over Northern Lands Nature Climate Change. DOI: 10.1038/NCLI-

1 Landscapes and
land-forming processes

Wladimir Bleuten & Christer Jonasson

Northern Arctic and sub-Arctic areas include magnificent

almost pristine landscapes with large ice caps, glaciers, spec-
tacular U-shaped valleys, wide rivers, waterfalls, wetlands,
extensive bogs, tundra and treeline forests. These landscapes 1
show the effects of erosion (break down of rocks by frost, thaw
and temperature changes) and sedimentation (transport and
deposition of these materials by glacial ice, water and wind)
during glaciations of the Pleistocene (2.5 million to 12 thou-
sand years ago) followed by the Holocene (the last 11 thou-
sand years) post glacial geomorphological (land-forming)
processes. The cold Arctic climate and relative lack of envi-
ronmental “engineering” by plants enable previously devel-
oped landforms to remain intact for a long time. For exam-
ple, granite outcrops in northern Norway have weathered at
about 2  mm per 1,000 years and have remained without a
vegetation cover for about 10,000 years. In many places the
processes, which created these landforms, are still active or
can be seen in comparable areas nearby.

Some geomorphological processes are unique for Arctic areas,

such as those connected with ground frost and permafrost
and an intense snow-melt period where precipitation accu-
mulated over several months is discharged during only a few
weeks, leading to flooding and slush avalanches.

In general, geomorphological processes in the mountain areas

of the Arctic are more intense than in temperate areas because
of frost and snowmelt and lack of protective vegetation. As
global warming is amplified in the Arctic, significant changes
are expected in geomorphological processes there, and the
Arctic is becoming a major natural laboratory for scientific
studies of climate-driven landscape-changing ­processes.

Mountain side features

in Kong Oscar Fjord,
Northeast Greenland
(Morten Rasch).

The landscapes of Arctic mountains and of high mountains in particular Sphagnum mosses, have sequestered atmospheric

temperate and even in tropical areas are formed by extensive carbon dioxide through photosynthesis and historically, this
and deep glacial erosion that typically results in U-shaped val- has provided a negative feedback (dampening) of past climate
leys and fjords. Examples can be found along the coasts of warming. However, current climate warming could change
Greenland and Norway. Flat-topped mountains remain where this feedback into an amplification of warming (Section 4).
ice-caps melted away but some jagged rocks (nunataks) pro-
trude above such high plateaus showing erosion marks and In this section, the appearance, properties and dynamics of
indicate the level of the former glacier ice. Landscapes of landforms are presented as a framework in which to under-
lower Arctic mountain ranges (e.g. Central and East Siberia) stand the dynamics of physical and biological processes in
show the effects of periglacial conditions (“periglacial” refers relation to climate warming. The geomorphological processes
to landscapes with a tundra climate (summer temperature are being studied on the ground and by remote sensing tech-
1 below 10 °C) close to ice sheets and glaciers and in other high niques (e.g. Science Story 1.1).
latitude areas not covered by ice-sheets: French, 2007) that
have led to the formation of gentle slopes with stone stripes LANDFORMS OF ARCTIC MOUNTAIN AREAS
(linear features where rock fragments create channels or elon- In Arctic and sub-Arctic mountain areas, it is possible to study
gated hills/mounds) and rock glaciers (“rivers” of frozen rocks the landforms resulting from glaciers that excavate valleys
slowly moving downslope) at the higher levels and solifluc- and lead to accumulation of sediments while in action. Dur-
tion tongues (movement of wet soil above a permafrost layer) ing several glaciation periods of the Pleistocene, great parts
at the lower levels. In contrast to mountains, the landforms of northern Europe, Asia and northern America were covered
in lowland areas have been formed mainly from sedimenta- with ice caps and ice sheets. However, because of the dry Arc-
tion by rivers in deltas and wide floodplains. The resulting tic climate in central and eastern parts of Siberia, vast areas
landforms of river terraces, mires (peat accumulating vegeta- were not covered by ice-sheets (Figure 1.1). Instead, these
tion) and extensive plains are then transformed by periglacial areas experienced harsh climatic conditions and deep and
processes resulting from permafrost dynamics (Section 2) widespread permafrost developed. After the last glaciation,
and wind action. As a result of climate warming after the last which ended ca. 12,000 years BP (before present), most of the
glaciation, mires developed in depressions on flat areas on ice sheets covering lowland areas gradually disappeared, leav-
water divides, on river terraces and floodplains far from river ing today a few ice caps on mountain areas (in Alaska, Canada,
channels. These mires became extensive during the Holocene, Scandinavia, Svalbard and the Russian Arctic islands) and the
particularly in Canada and Siberia. Mire vegetation, and in extensive Greenland Ice Sheet.

Figure 1.1  Map of glacial areas 18,000

years ago when the last Ice Age was at its
height. Sea level was 120 m lower than
today, eastern Asia was connected to
North America and the Siberian coastline
extended far north of today’s coastline
(Arview, Tomsk, Russia).


Figure 1.2  Mountain side rock debris is transported inside or in front of glaciers. Where glaciers from different valleys join, dark
bands of debris can be seen. Nunataks (ice-free mountain tops) can be seen in the middle of the ice cap (Terry V. Callaghan).

Ice caps are formed by the accumulation of snow, which glacier. There, by ablation (evaporation of melted ice and run-
changes into ice by compression under its own weight (Sec- off of melt water) of the glacier ice, the transported rock mate-
tion 3). The ice layers developed are overlaid with more and rial is deposited at the glacier sides and front. Where valley
more snow and ice layers. The resulting pressure makes the ice slopes rise above the glaciers, rock material may fall on top of
plastic and it flows slowly downhill at outlet points as glaciers. the glacier and this material is then transported within and in
Little is known about what happens to the subglacial land sur- front of the ice (Figure 1.2). Along the lower parts of the glacier,
faces at the interface between ice and rocks. Consequently, elongated side-moraines are formed (Section 3), consisting of
evidence of subglacial erosion was looked for on the Finnish- rock material of both the valley floor glacial deposits (tills) and
Russian Kola Peninsula (Science Story 1.2). This area has a flat- valley slope debris. At the glacier front, banana shaped end-
topped granite dome which was covered with an ice-cap dur- moraines are formed (Figure 1.3). Both moraine types contain
ing the last glaciation. ice lenses as well as boulders and till. Such ice lenses have been
studied in Science Story 1.3 and 1.4. The moraines formed are
At the margins of the ice caps, “outlet” glaciers are formed in most prominent during periods when the glacier front is sta-
valleys that were already present before the ice caps devel- tionary and the supply of glacier ice equals melting rate.
oped. Compared to the central parts of the ice-caps, the
ice flow rates at the glacier bottom increases substantially. When the snow accumulation on ice-caps and glacier head
Locally, the temperature at the glacier bottom may rise above zones (firn zones) decreases, for example through climate
the freezing point either for a short period or continuously: warming, glacier fronts retreat (Section 3) leaving moraines
in these conditions, the glacier is called a “warm glacier”. The behind. Glaciers in mountains without ice-caps generally
sequential freezing and thawing at the glacier bottom, com- move ice from the highest parts (cirques) down slope through
bined with the force of the moving ice-mass, excavate rock the glacial valleys and develop moraine landforms compara-
and loose material on the valley bottom and side slopes and ble to those of outlet-glaciers. Study of the location of succes-
this is transported by the moving ice to the lower end of the sive moraine ridges reveals glacial stages which can be related


Figure 1.3  Cirques are

bowls resulting from ice
scouring near the heads of
glaciers. Below the glacier is
a pro-glacial lake dammed
by moraines. The glacier is
Vaktpostglaciären, situated in
the Valley Unna Räitavaggen
in northern Sweden
(P. Holmlund, taken in August 2011).

Figure 1.4  Classic “U” shaped

valley. The valley is Stour
Räitavagge in the Kebnekaise
area of northern Sweden
(P. Holmlund, taken in August 2011).

to climate changes. The entire process of glacial erosion leads In certain locations, lakes may develop where water flows

to the development of the typical U-shaped glacial valleys toward a glacier via side-valleys. Such lakes may gradually
which appear after glacier retreat (Figure 1.4). It also leads to fill up with sediments. After the glacier melts, these deposits
the erosion of the mountains in the head zones where cirque remain as kame-terraces, having almost flat top surface and
glaciers break up mountain ridges (Figure 1.3). steep scarps (slopes) at the margins. The internal orientation
of debris, structure of layers and presence of ice lenses has
At the end of the last glacial period, some of the ice caps, been studied in Science Story 1.4 to determine the date of
for example in sub-Arctic Scandinavia, melted and the for- sediment deposition and glacier stage.
mer land-forms covered with ice in the glacial period were
released as relicts. Also, during the last glaciation, many Arc- In addition to glacial processes, different kinds of weather-
tic mountain ridges were covered with snow and ice with ing and mass movements have sculptured the Arctic moun-
only sporadic “nunataks” protruding through (Figure 1.2). As tain slopes. Also, frost action creates landforms like patterned 1
climate warmed, the slopes below the nunataks became ice ground where rock fragments are sorted and moved by soil
free and the nunataks joined together forming rocky, snow- freezing and thawing. These processes result in sorted steps,
free mountain ridges. Sometimes, glaciers connected ice-free stone stripes and other kinds of linear features where rock
areas to the mainland and when they melted, former peninsu- fragments create channels or elongated hills. A typical Arc-
las became islands. These processes can be seen on Svalbard tic mountain slope (Figure 1.5) consists of a free face, which
(Ziaja and Ostafin 2014). is affected by frost action and physical weathering, creating a
talus slope beneath. Below the talus slopes, slow mass move-
Sometimes, the Pleistocene ice sheets in Scandinavia, Green- ment processes are normally active. These include solifluc-
land, and North America were very thick (several kilometers) tion, slow slope movement called creep. Several studies have
and exerted sufficient pressure to push the Earth’s crust down. shown that the geomorphological development of Arctic
After the end of the last Pleistocene glaciation that pressure mountain slopes is dominated by rapid mass movements like
decreased, resulting in a slow rebound of the Earth’s crust avalanches, slush avalanches, slides and debris flows. These
called “isostatic uplift”. This uplift is active still today. In some processes seldom occur but they have a high intensity as
places it compensates for, or even exceeds the sea level rise, extreme events which can be triggered by an intense snow-
for example in parts of Greenland and Scandinavia. melt or rainfall.

Figure 1.5  Mountain side

features in Adventdalen,
Svalbard (Terry V. Callaghan).


Figure 1.6  A classic braided meltwater

stream from Ruotesjekna entering
Ruotesvagge in Sarek, northern Sweden
(P. Holmlund, taken in August 2012).

Meltwater discharge from glaciers form multi-channel, shal- high Arctic glaciated areas to ice-free sub-Arctic areas and

low streams (braided streams: Figure 1.6), which transport high these stations are a resource for further studies.
masses of gravel, sand and silt material, sometimes extending
across the complete valley floor. Lower valley depressions as LANDFORMS OF ARCTIC LOWLAND AREAS
well as reservoirs can be filled up rapidly by these sediments. In Arctic lowland areas, the traces of the last or even earlier
ice-sheet processes can be studied. The high pressure from
Climate warming is leading to the melting of glaciers (Sec- prolonged movements of ice sheets over lowland areas pro-
tion  3) and increased fresh water flow to the oceans. This duces wide ice-tongue depressions from where the loose soil
contributes to increased sea level that will lead to worldwide materials have been pushed forward. Today, these depres-
coastal flooding. Calculating the volume of glacier ice that can sions are often filled with large lakes. Together with the
be melted by a unit temperature rise is one of the important transported subglacial tills and rocks on top of the ice sheets,
issues in this field of geosciences. Such melting rate estimates these soil materials formed series of ice-pushed moraine hills. 1
are based on mass volume of the glaciers (and ice-caps feed- These hills form ridges that can be recognized in large areas of
ing these glaciers), snow accumulation, solar insulation and Europe, Canada, Alaska and Russia.
top-ice temperature. The volume of ice that is prone to melting
also depends on sub-ice temperature which is an important Moraine ridges representing stationary stages of ice-sheet
factor determining ice flow velocity. Intensive research efforts fronts are the best locations for dating the deglaciation stages
have been made and are still continuing to quantify the snow and for comparing these stages with climate change derived
and ice mass balances of glaciers and ice sheets that cover the from other climate approximations dating from the same
highlands of the Arctic. The Science Story 1.3 describes how time period. Remnants of subglacial meltwater courses from
sediments present in valley head depressions (cirques) have below the ice-sheets are preserved as narrow, but elongated,
been studied for the estimation of ice mass volumes. sometimes meandering hills (eskers) and their size and sedi-
ment properties may help identify the source areas of the
The thawing of glacier ice is also affected by ice-thickness ice-sheet and estimate the ice volume during their forma-
and sub-ice relief. Unlike the downstream slope of rivers, the tion. Many elongated and sometimes very deep lakes in the
subglacial valley floor undulates in the down-flow direction. areas formerly covered by ice-sheets occupy former subgla-
Deeply excavated valley floor sections are followed by higher, cial river beds and further carving by flowing ice. These lakes
less eroded areas downslope. These form “thresholds” for sub- contain very interesting varve sediments, which can be used
glacial water flow. Further retreat of these fronts can result in to reconstruct past climates. Other important geomorpho-
sudden catastrophic peak discharge of subglacial lakes pre- logical features of landscapes formed by ice-sheets are glacial
sent in depressions when thresholds are freed from ice and tills and so called “dead-ice” hollows. Glacial tills that consist
breached. Glacier melting as a result of climate warming can of unsorted sediments (mixtures of boulders, gravel, sand, silt
make glacial lakes a threat downhill because of the risk of sud- and clay), left behind after disappearance of the ice sheet, can
den massive water release through the formation of subgla- be present over large areas. Tills with high loam and clay con-
cial siphons and by collapse of moraine ridges as studied in tent can cause water ponding and lead to peat accumulation
Science Story 1.5 and the publication by Rudoy in 2002. above. Dead-ice hollows are formed where isolated remnants
of sheet-ice remain after general ice melting. Where such ice
Another impact caused by enhanced temperatures is the melt- blocks were present near the ice-sheet front, the deposition
ing of mountain permafrost, which might lead to increased of sediments was prevented. Later, when the ice sheet front
mass movement activity and risk of damage to infrastruc- had retreated further, the sediment supply diminished, the
ture such as roads and railroads. Mountain sides, freshly dead-ice melted, and depressions remained. Many lakes have
freed from glacier ice, may be unstable after release of their been formed in this way, in particular in the area in front of the
support by glacial ice. In particular, kame terraces, side- and glacier where gravel and sand were transported and depos-
end-moraines and valley slopes become prone to mass move- ited by multi-channel overland flow (by the braided streams
ments. Furthermore, the raised melt-water peak discharge of and rivers). Where lakes are not present, sandr’s form. These
river water that contains a high amount of transported sedi- are gently sloping surfaces (ideal places for airport runways)
ments, may give rise to downstream floods and bury existing in front of the ice-sheet and downhill from the end-moraine
land surfaces. Such high river discharges alternate with gentle ridges (Figures 1.3 and 1.5). They can cover zones tens of kilo-
flows that produce sediment layers of variable thickness and metres wide and up to hundreds of kilometres long (in West
grain size (varves) on lake beds. By coring the sediments, the Siberia) and are common in formerly glaciated areas of the
“hydro-dynamic” conditions during the deposition of these Arctic and sub-Arctic zones.
varves can be reconstructed, quantified and related to climate
changes (Section 6). In periglacial areas, because of low temperatures, most of the
soils and rocks near the surface are frozen (Section 2) and only
The processes that form the mountain landscapes of the a thin superficial layer thaws in summer (the “active layer”).
North have been studied at INTERACT research stations from Vegetation of these periglacial areas is scarce and bare, and

gravelly soils are common. Such periglacial environments are

called polar deserts and semi-deserts and can be found and

studied today in the surroundings of high Arctic INTERACT
stations. In such lowland regions sedimentation processes
have been dominating during the post-glacial period. Both
seasonal ground frost and permafrost create distinct land-
forms in Arctic lowland areas. The frost action creates different
kinds of patterned ground phenomena, like stone rings (net-
works of sorted stones creating circles) in polar deserts (Figure
1.7), ice-wedges, and tundra polygons (see Sections 2 and 6 and
Figure 1.8) in vegetated, tundra areas.
In peat areas, palsas may develop. These are local permafrost
features caused by intense cooling during winter periods,
when ice-lenses are developed that lift the surface of the peat
forming mounds (Section 2). These mounds can be more than
Figure 1.7  Stone circles in polar desert on Cornwallis Island,
10 metres high and are underlain by permafrost. In summer-
high Arctic Canada (Terry V. Callaghan).
time, the uplifted peat layer becomes dry, thereby insulating
and protecting the ice layers below.

The continental tundra climate is generally very dry because

of low precipitation and low evaporation. Therefore, after
snow melt, the top soil becomes dry and susceptible to wind
erosion. Wind erosion was very active during the Pleistocene
glaciations when a broad zone of Europe, Asia, and North
America had a tundra climate and the land mass extended
over what is now submerged continental shelves. Windblown
sand and in particular silt (grain size 50 μm) was deposited
in downwind areas and in lee areas of valleys. The material
deposited (loess) covered wide areas and formed very thick
Yedoma deposits in Siberia (Figure 1.9). These deposits include
relatively high contents of easily decomposable organic mat-
ter preserved by permafrost after being covered by succeed-
ing windblown sediments (Science Story 4.2).

In areas where large quantities of windblown sands and silts

Figure 1.8  Tundra polygons on Bylot Island, Canada (Isabelle
were deposited, the drainage networks, except for the big riv-
ers, are disturbed and/or weakly developed. The permafrost
hinders the development of valleys and a river network. The
water from snowmelt and summer rainfall cannot infiltrate
into the soil and consequently flows overland (sheet flow) and
downhill to existing rivers. Frequently, sheet flows and mass
movements of super-saturated water-sediment mixtures
move down slope and fill up small river tributaries. As a result
of such periglacial processes, valley slopes become concave in
cross section in contrast to convex valley slopes resulting from
river erosion under moderate climates.

Typical periglacial rivers are shallow, have many channels and

transport relatively high masses of sediments, particularly in
spring. The numerous Arctic lakes developed by collapses in
both mineral and peat soils (thermokarst) (Figure 1.10) delays
the development of river networks for long periods. Because
of these hydrological conditions the resulting landscapes have
very wet soils.
Figure 1.9  Yedoma (soils with high carbon content resulting
from wind-blown soil deposits) Duvannyi Yar, Russia (Jorien Vonk).

Thermokarst lake

Drained thermokarst lake

New frost heaving


Peat plateau with permafrost

Figure 1.10  Stages of thermokarst lake development in Siberia (N 64.7° N, 75.4° E). Peat plateaus erode as permafrost thaws to
form thermokarst lakes which drain to form khasyrei, which then accumulate permafrost to form palsa plateaus (Wladimir Bleuten).

At the beginning of the Holocene, the climate became warmer by on-going and predicted future global temperature rise and
but the surface remained very wet because permafrost was already, areas of lake disappearance have been observed in
still present and there was a lack of an efficient drainage sys- permafrost areas in Arctic North America (Hinzman and oth-
tem. Such conditions promote the development of peat accu- ers 2005) and Russia (Smith and others 2005), although some
mulating vegetation (mires) with Sphagnum mosses, sedges, lake formation has also been observed (but to a lesser degree
cotton grass, dwarf shrubs and, in slightly drier places, stunted particularly in areas of continuous permafrost in Siberia).
trees. The mires spread far to the north up to the Arctic Ocean The peat accumulation by Arctic and sub-Arctic mires that
during the Holocene Thermal Maximum period (HTM) and occurred over large, former periglacial areas during the Holo-
the following wet, cool period (10 to 5 thousand years BP) cene is still active in pristine (undisturbed and un-polluted)
(Hunt and others 2013). These peat layers became frozen dur- areas (Figure 1.11). This peat accumulation has preserved the
ing colder periods after the HTM when ice-lenses formed in hydrological conditions with widely spaced river tributaries
the peat. These ice lenses and pore ice in the peat lifted up throughout the entire Holocene. Consequently, the accumu-
the surface of the peat to form peat plateaus, intersected by lated peat layers form an archive of past climate and provide
shallow rivers. Later rises in temperature caused parts of the very good possibilities to reconstruct the climate changes
peat plateaus to thaw and collapse (resulting in “thermokarst” during the Holocene through analysis of the macro fossils of
features: see Section 2). The resulting depressions filled up plants, mosses and micro-organisms at varying depths from
with water forming numerous lakes typical for the Arctic and the young surface peat layers to the old bottom layers. Current
sub-Arctic circumpolar zones. Frost action and thawing and and future climate warming may result in the decomposition
collapse (“slumping”) of the lake shores enlarge the areas of of the organic matter stored in peat and mineral soil (Yedoma
these thermokarst lakes which eventually join each other. in Siberia) and the release of the greenhouse gases carbon
However, if the permafrost below the lakes thaws or surface dioxide and methane into the atmosphere (Section 4 and
connections between thermokarst lakes and draining riv- Science Story 4.2). This process results in a positive feedback
ers form, the thermokarst lakes can drain and become dry (amplification) on climate warming. However, where moisture
forming “khasyrei”. The beds of these drained lakes can freeze conditions are favorable, peat accumulation may continue at
again and lift the lake beds (Figure 1.10; Kirpotin and others rates sufficient to give a negative feedback (dampening) on
2007). It is expected that this cycling process will be broken climate warming.


The discharge dynamics of the very large rivers characteristic South (Narozhniy and Zemtsov 2011). The large Russian riv-
of the Russian Arctic (e.g. the Siberian rivers Ob, Yenissei, Lena) ers are unusual because they flow great distances from warm
with catchment areas consisting for a great part of mires and regions, where temperatures above 30 °C are not uncommon,
mire-lake complexes, is suppressed by the high water reten- to the Arctic Ocean carrying heat energy.
tion capacity of mires. River floodplains and adjacent hinter-
lands of the middle and lower river sections as well as coastal Geomorphological and hydrological studies of Arctic and sub-
lowland areas are at risk of enhanced frequency and duration Arctic lowland areas are scarce relative to the vast surface area
of flooding when mires degrade because of climate warm- they occupy. However, the INTERACT program has enabled
ing, and if there is large scale artificial draining and peat min- substantial scientific progress in these fields.
ing. This flooding risk is increased by the rapid rate of glacier
thaw and snow melt in the head waters of the rivers far to the

Key messages and needs for further research
„„ Stability analyses of valley slopes, recently released from glacier ice, is

an important issue in mountain areas in the Arctic as well as in lower
latitudes, but little studied yet.
„„ Special attention is needed to quantify the spatial and depth distribu-
tion of windblown sandy and silty deposits widespread in the Arctic
regions of Siberia (Yedoma deposits). These sediments include layers
with relatively high concentrations of easily decomposable organic
material because they were deposited during periglacial climatic con-
„„ Hydrological dynamics of rivers draining large mires in the sub-Arc-
tic zones have been simulated by stochastic modeling but quantita- 1
tive knowledge of the cause-effect relationships is missing. Likewise,
ground truth data of the occurrence and mechanisms of river blocking
by ice-dams are missing, which also limits the prediction of the occur-
rence of floods by real-time modeling.
„„ Although the natural cycles of lake formation and drainage have been
described, the balance between lake drainage and formation due to
permafrost thaw remains to be determined because it is important for
people, wildlife, and land-atmosphere links of energy and greenhouse

Further information and references

Wladimir Bleuten,
Faculty of Geosciences, Department Physical Geography,
Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands.

Christer Jonasson,
Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Sweden.


French, H.M. 2007. The Periglacial Environment. 478 pp. John Wiley and Sons.
Hinzman, L.D., Bettez, N.D., Bolton, W.R. and others 2005. Evidence and implications of
recent climate change in northern Alaska and other arctic regions. Climatic Change
Hunt, S., Zicheng, Y., Jones, M. 2013. Lateglacial and Holocene climate, disturbance and
permafrostpeatland dynamics on the Seward Peninsula, western Alaska. Quaternary
Science Reviews 63:42-58.
Kirpotin, S.N., Naumov, A.V., Vorobiov, S.N. and others 2007. Western Siberian peatlands: Indi-
cators of climate change and their role in global carbon balance. IN: R. Lal, M. Suleimenov,
B.A. Stewart, D.O. Hansen & P. Doraiswamy (Eds) climate change and Terrestrial carbon
sequestration in Central Asia. Taylor & Francis/Balkema ISBN13 978-0-415-42235-2.
Narozhniy, Y. and Zemtsov, V. 2011. Current State of the Altai Glaciers (Russia) and Trends
Over the Period of Instrumental Observations 1952–2008. AMBIO 40:575-588, DOI:
Figure 1.11  Complex of mires
with permafrost and lakes
Rudoy, A.N. 2002. Glacier-dammed lakes and geological work of glacial superfloods in the
in the Forest Tundra Zone
Late Pleistocene, Southern Siberia, Altai Mountains. Quaternary International 87:119-
of West Siberia
(Sergey Kirpotin).
Smith, L.C., Sheng, Y., MacDonald, G.M. and Hinzman, L.D. 2005. Disappearing Arctic lakes.
Science 308:1429-1429.
Ziaja, W. and Ostafin, K. 2014. Landscape–seascape dynamics in the isthmus between
Sørkapp Land and the rest of Spitsbergen: Will a new big Arctic island form? AMBIO
44:332-342, DOI: 10.1007/s13280-014-0572-1.

Evaluating radar remote sensing data

for Arctic tundra landscapes

Jennifer Sobiech-Wolf

Radar remote sensing is a technique that

1 allows remote and cost efficient observa-
• tion of natural environments and is thus
1 an important tool to observe uninhabited
regions such as the Arctic. However, the
radar images are not easy to interpret,
since the radar signal is influenced by vari-
ous factors such as the soil and vegetation
water content as well as the structure of the
surface, for example if the surface is smooth
or rough, and if herbs and grasses or woody
vegetation is on top. Thus, we have to com-
pare in situ field data with the satellite data
to “translate” the signal to environmental
information. Soil moisture measurements in the field (Tobias Ullmann).


Our goal was to find out which environmental parameters in We worked at the Zackenberg Research Station (• 70) in North-
Arctic tundra landscapes can be detected with radar remote east Greenland. The station is located in a valley which is dom-
sensing. inated by permafrost and covered by different tundra vegeta-
tion types and contains several wetlands. We chose this loca-
WHAT DID WE DO? tion, as we could reach various vegetation zones easily from
In the field, we mapped the spatial distribution of vegetation the station by hiking. Furthermore, an automatic weather sta-
types and the structure of the surface, measured soil moisture tion is situated nearby and environmental data such as vege-
at more than 4,000 points, and determined the biomass and tation phenology (timing of events such as bud-burst) and soil
vegetation water content at 20 different locations. All meas- moisture are measured from spring to fall by the station staff.
urements were repeated after one year. At home in the office, Those data were made available for our study.
we analyzed the corresponding satellite images and explored
correlations between the radar signals and the natural condi-
tions in the study area.

We analyzed the signal of the TerraSAR-X radar
satellite (X-band, radar wavelength 3.1 cm) for
our first investigations. We observed strong vari-
ations from time to time and place to place of
the radar signals during the year. We found that
the spatial signal variations neither match the
main vegetation distribution in the valley nor
the soil moisture distribution. Future analysis 1
will show if the biomass water content or the •
surface roughness (structure) is the dominating 1
factor influencing the signal or if the X-band sig-
nal is a mixture of too many parameters to get
spatial environmental information out of short-
wave radar images.


It is important to explore possible relationships
between remote sensing data and natural envi-
ronmental parameters. Such relationships can
then be used for providing maps, for climate
modelling, or for weather forecasting over areas
far larger than those which can be covered by in
situ measurements.
Zackenberg valley in the radar perspective. Filtered and geocoded
THE ADVENTURE TerraSAR-X image recorded 17.06.2013. ©DLR 2013.
The journey to Zackenberg is an adventure itself.
The exciting flight from southern to northern
Greenland takes place in a small Twin Otter type
of aircraft. We flew through the valleys along the
coast, having the steep mountain ridges close
to both sides of the plane. Around Zackenberg,
a lot of wildlife is present. We could observe
muskox almost everywhere and often had to
walk some extra minutes to keep our distance.
We also saw Arctic foxes, which were surpris-
ingly confiding. Polar bears are also frequently
present in the area, thus we had to scan our sur-
rounding constantly. Unfortunately – or luckily?
– we never saw one ourselves, although other
people working in the valley did.

Equipment for field measurements and safety (Jennifer Sobiech-Wolf ).

Further information
Jennifer Sobiech-Wolf
Alfred-Wegener-Institute, Helmholtz Center for Polar and Marine Research,
Landscape at Zackenberg Research Station
showing different surface structures
(Morten Rasch).

The impact of glacial erosion

Reindeer on exposed bedrock at

Karhutunturi, northern Finland
on the bedrock plains (Karin Ebert).

of northern Fennoscandia
Karin Ebert, Adrian Hall & Johan Kleman



In the areas of the Northern Hemishere that have been cov- AIMS OF THE PROJECT
ered by ice during the ice age, geomorphological research is We wanted to know what impact many thousands of years of
dominated by ice-age related studies. However, before the ice ice sheet cover had on the bedrock surface of the northern
age, we had hundreds of million years of other processes, e.g. Fennoscandian Shield. Also, we continuously develop differ-
fluvial (river-related) processes and weathering, that formed ent analyses in Geographical Information Systems (GIS), in com-
the landscapes. Many of these pre-glacial –formed before the bination with fieldwork, to visualize the pattern of ice sheet
ice age – landforms have not been destroyed by the ice. We are erosion.
interested in finding the areas that are best preserved, to be
able to find out about landscape development before the ice WHAT DID WE DO?
age and we looked in Fennoscandia (northern Norway, Swe- We visited field sites and opencast mines. We looked for evi-
den, Finland and northwestern Russia). The bedrock plains of dence for either glacial erosion by warm-based ice or the pres-
northern Fennoscandia mainly consist of bedrock belonging ervation of old, weathered bedrock (soil) under cold-based ice.
to the “Fennoscandian Shield”. Shields are the hundreds of Warm-based ice is thick, heavy, and fast flowing. The ice melts
million years old stable cores of our continents. They consist at the bottom and water and particles erode the underlying
of bedrock types that are extremely resistant to erosion. The landscape. Cold-based ice is thinner and frozen to the ground
shield surface usually is comparatively flat, with low relief. – it effectively preserves the underlying landscape. In areas of
During the last 2.6 million years, the northern shields, like the warm-based ice we find that the bedrock surface shows traces
Canadian and the Fennoscandian shields, have been cov- of erosion like many lakes, bare and scraped bedrock surfaces,
ered many times by kilometre-thick ice sheets. While there is and bedrock types from other areas that have been transported
intense research on how ice behaves and erodes in mountain- into the area. In cold-based areas, the pre-glacial soils that
ous terrain, research about the impact of ice erosion on flat, existed before the glaciers formed, are preserved and have not
resistant bedrock surfaces is only in its beginnings. been scraped away by ice. The field work was combined with
studies using Geographical Information Systems (GIS).

We visited three different research stations – Kolari Research
Unit (• 16), Kilpisjärvi Biological Station (• 12) and KEVO Sub­
arctic Research Station (• 13) in northern Finland, to see as
much shield area as possible, as well as several mines. Mines
give the rare opportunity to see a cut downwards into the
shield. We drove all across the area by car and did many long
hikes to viewpoints and areas with bare bedrock. Getting
higher up on hills is important to get an overview, as the taiga 1
forest in the lower areas makes an overview difficult. •
We found that ice sheet erosion had little impact on the shield
surface. Valleys that are positioned in the former ice-flow direc-
tion are overdeepened by glacial erosion, and bedrock hills in
areas of most intense erosion seem streamlined, because the
ice deposited loose material in the lee side of the hill (lee of
ice flow direction). In some areas, the pre-glacial landscape
is practically intact. Here, the valleys are not overdeepened, Impact of glacial erosion on the shield bedrock. Even
“strong” erosion impact that moved around a lot of material
the hills do not appear to be streamlined, and old soil and
on the shield surface did not transform the large-scale
pre-glacially weathered rock, so-called “saprolite” covers the
bedrock forms of the shield (Modified from Ebert and others 2015).
landscape. In areas of glacial erosion, this comparatively soft
saprolite, was stripped away.


Hitherto it was not known how much rock was removed from
the Fennoscandian Shield during the Ice Age. Knowledge
about the impact of ice sheet erosion is a first important
step to determine this. The shields cover areas of thousands
of square kilometres, and their contribution of sediment and
their susceptibility to surface processes are important to
understand all kinds of global dynamics. For example, if soil
is stripped away, new soil will form by weathering. Weather-
ing needs carbon dioxide so weathering across huge areas like
the shields will have an impact on the Earth’s carbon dioxide

The adventure included long drives, long hikes, mosquitoes
and reindeer – and many new discoveries. Discussions at Pahtavaara between Adrian Hall and mine
geologists about ice dynamics. In this location, we find only
Road on the huge Fennoscandian local bedrock, and the local boulders were not transported far,
bedrock plains (Karin Ebert). which means that glacial erosion was moderate (Karin Ebert).

Further information
Karin Ebert, Adrian Hall & Johan Kleman
Department of Physical Geography and Quaternary Geology,
Stockholm University, Sweden


Ebert, K., Hall, A.M., Kleman, J. and Andersson, J. 2015. Unequal

ice-sheet erosional impacts on low-relief shield terrain in
northern Fennoscandia. Geomorphology 233: 64-74.

Past climate of the Faroe Islands

during the late glacial period

Brice R. Rea, Kevin J. Edwards, Craig R. Frew, J. Edward Schofield & Matteo Spagnolo

Saksunarvatn ash
layer (the visible dark-
1 coloured tephra layer
• is 2 cm thick) from a
3 sediment core
(K.J. Edwards).

The Greenland Ice Sheet and ice masses around the North
Atlantic Ocean are diminishing, returning stored water to
the oceans and contributing to sea-level rise. Freshwater
input into the North Atlantic Ocean has the potential to dis-
rupt the Meridional Overturning Circulation (MOC) of which
the Gulf Stream is part, resulting in a significant climate
cooling in Europe, and a southward shift of the Polar Front.
It is therefore important to study a past event that is simi-
lar to the possible freshening of the North Atlantic Ocean
which could occur in the future. This “analogue” happened
during the Younger Dryas climatic phase, about 12.9-11.7
thousand years BP (Before Present), at the end of the last
glaciation when there was a reorganisation of the MOC and
rapid climate cooling. Palaeoecology and palaeoglaciology
provide ideal proxies (indicators) for developing a better
understanding of the climate changes resulting from this
A pond on the flank of Norðurhelvt,
ocean-atmosphere-cryosphere feedback.
Eysturoy, which yielded a 1.2 m long core
(J.E. Schofield).


Glacier Equilibrium Line Altitudes (ELA – the elevation on a
glacier at which snowfall equals snowmelt over a single year:
Section 3) from reconstructed Younger Dryas palaeo-glaciers
in Ireland, Britain and Norway show a clear south to north
lowering interrupted by a step-change in altitude between
about 59-62° N. This increase in altitude of the ELA reflects
the position of the Polar Front, north of which a permanent
sea-ice cover would significantly reduce snowfall, raising ELAs.
The Faroe Islands are ideally located to better estimate the
location of the Polar Front during the Younger Dryas. Palaeo­
ecological archives preserved, for instance, as pollen, other
plant remains and invertebrates, in organic deposits record
the palaeoenvironment and palaeoclimate at the time of their
formation. We aimed to determine the ELAs of Younger Dryas
Reconstructed (probable) Younger Dryas glacier in Vatnsdalur, palaeo-glaciers and combine these with palaeoecologically-
Eysturoy, overlaid on Google Earth map. Contour values refer derived climate information, to construct a more detailed pic-
to elevation above sea level of the reconstructed glacier. ture of the climate in the region at that time.

We undertook a two-week field campaign in 2013. Through The final results from this project will be important as they
map-based analyses, the cirques (see the Overview) most will elucidate the palaeoclimate of the Faroe Islands during
likely to have hosted glaciers during the Younger Dryas were the Younger Dryas. This is not only of interest in its own right,
identified. Approximately 40 cirques were investigated on but the geographical provenance of these data will help to pin
foot, moraine systems were mapped using hand-held GPS down the location of the Polar Front, and also the moisture
receivers, and samples for dating the moraines were col- regime of the islands. This is critical because it will indicate the
lected. Crystals in boulders exposed to cosmic radiation have presence or absence of sea-ice around the islands. Sea-ice pro-
increased concentrations of certain isotopes that are directly vides a major control on large-scale atmospheric circulation 1
proportional to the time the boulders have been exposed at patterns, on down-wind climate, and has also been implicated •
the Earth surface, i.e. consistent with the age of the moraines. in possible rapid insolation-driven early deglaciation on the 3
northwest seaboard of Europe during the Younger Dryas.
For palaeoecologial purposes, sediment cores were obtained
adjacent to the high altitude moraine systems and from THE ADVENTURE
beyond them, focusing upon material at and below the visible The Faroe Islands provide a spectacular backdrop for scien-
Saksunarvatn tephra layer (a 10,350 calendar years BP volcanic tific research. The weather is often wet and the steep slopes,
ash deposit). Data from these will provide the opportunity to precipitous cliff paths and ridge walks provide a challenging
generate high resolution palaeoecological and palaeoclimatic environment in which to work. When the clouds part and the
records for the Faroe Islands. Sun shines, the landscape is transformed.


1000 Great Britain
Our project “FaroeICE” was undertaken in the Faroe Islands Ireland
under the hospitality of the Faroe Islands Nature Investiga- Norway
tion (• 75). The archipelago was chosen due to its location (at
a latitude between northern Scotland and southern Norway, ?
ELA (m)

where the altitudinal jump in ELA has been verified), and the Front
fact that previous work on the islands had demonstrated that
our research strategy could be successfully applied. Nine of
the 18 islands were investigated during the project.


Glacial depositional landforms are generally unspectacu- 50 55 60 65 70
lar and relatively sparse. Some large hummocky and retreat Latitude
moraine systems were identified along the main fjords and
valleys but only a minority of cirques had any moraines in Younger Dryas ELAs from Ireland, Britain and Norway and
them. In total, nine separate moraine systems were mapped the likely location of the Polar Front.
and 26 sites were sampled for cosmogenic dating. Recon-
struction of the cirque glaciers is ongoing but initial results
indicate an ELA of about 385 m. Only one site was identified
with the potential to yield fossiliferous material in proximity
to a moraine system. This was found close to the summit of
Slættaratindur (882 m), the highest mountain in the Faroe
Islands, and consisted of about 1.2 m of dark brown coarse
detritus mud (gyttja) contained within a small pond. In addi-
tion, efforts were made to identify sites containing records of
considerable longevity. This task is hindered by lack of suita-
ble late glacial/early Holocene deposits. A particularly promis-
ing sequence was recovered from a palaeo-lake site, Hoydalur, Probable Younger Dryas moraine in Vatnsdalur,
on the north side of Tórshavn. Here, a 6.35 m deep core was Eysturoy (B.R. Rea).
taken which contained the Saksunarvatn ash centred at 4.64
m in the deepest part of the basin. Pollen, chironomid and Further information
sedimentological analyses are being undertaken for this core. Brice R. Rea, Kevin J. Edwards, Craig R. Frew, J. Edward Schofield &
These will provide information about vegetation dynamics, Matteo Spagnolo
past temperatures, and the stability of catchment soils respec-
School of Geosciences, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen AB24
tively over the period of interest. 3UF, UK




Moraine internal structure and form
Toby N. Tonkin & Nicholas G. Midgley

Isfallsglaciären and its prominent snowbanked lateral-frontal moraines. Tarfala Research Station can be seen in the foreground
(Toby N. Tonkin).

Moraines are ridges or mounds of unconsolidated sediment AIM OF THE PROJECT

(loose, deposited materials) that develop at the margins of To investigate the internal structure, morphology and sedi-
glaciers. Whilst the glaciers of the Tarfala valley in north- mentary composition of lateral-frontal moraines (moraines
ern Sweden are well studied in terms of their glaciology, that accumulate around the margin of a glacier) formed by
the moraines are less well understood. The sedimentary Arctic glaciers.
composition, internal structure and morphology (shape) of
moraines is related to a range of glaciological and surface WHAT DID WE DO?
processes. Therefore these landforms can be seen as an Our research took the form of two visits to the Tarfala Research
archive of past glacier characteristics and activity. Studies Station (• 10). The first was during winter-conditions, when we
of these landforms may contribute to our understanding of used a geophysical technique called ground-penetrating radar
the character and behaviour of these glaciers over a range to identify internal structure within the moraines. We returned
of timescales and therefore merit further investigation. in the summer to document the sedimentary composition of
the moraines and to collect low-level aerial imagery using an
unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). The aerial images were then
used to produce digital-elevation models (DEMs) using a tech-
nique called photogrammetry. DEMs are representations of
the terrain’s relief, which help us to interpret the significance
of the landforms.

Using ground-penetrating radar to investigate the internal structure of the Isfallsglaciären moraines under winter-conditions
(Gunhild Rosquist).



A 3D model of the Isfallsglaciären northern lateral-frontal moraine produced using imagery acquired from an unmanned aerial
vehicle (UAV). The UAV is shown in the bottom right (Toby N. Tonkin). Approximate former ice-flow direction is also indicated.


We worked at Tarfala Research Station (• 10) in northern Swe- Due to the isolated location of the research station, under
den. Tarfala was chosen due to its close proximity to a range winter-conditions travelling to Tarfala required a snow scooter
of valley glaciers and interesting glacial landforms. Our study ride into the mountains. During the summer we arrived and
site at Isfallsglaciären was a short walk (ca. 500 metres) from departed via helicopter which enabled us to transport bulky
the research station allowing us to easily keep our equipment equipment to and from our field site. We were lucky enough
charged and therefore stay productive. to catch the Aurora Borealis during our first visit. Tarfala is an
amazing location to conduct research.
The results of our geophysical surveys appear to delimit the
extent of buried-ice within the moraines and the depth at
which this ice is buried, as well as revealing some of the inter-
nal structure of the landforms. Lateral cross-sections of the
landforms show some distinct differences in terms of their A 100 MHz ground-penetrating radar profile displaying the
sedimentary composition, subsurface structure and morphol- internal structure of the Isfallsglaciären southern lateral
ogy in comparison to frontal sections. The moraines appear to moraine.
have developed as a result of more than one period of glacier Distance along profile (m)
10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90
expansion and therefore provide a sedimentary record of gla-
Two Way Travel Time (ns)

cier change. 0


Studies investigating these landforms are important for a vari-
ety of reasons. Firstly, it helps aid our understanding of relict
features in the geomorphological (landform) record and their
glaciological and climatic significance. Secondly, by docu-
menting the internal structure and morphology of these land-
forms, we can understand how the glacier has changed over
timescales well in excess of direct monitoring studies. Further- Further information
more, by determining the ice-content and sedimentology of Toby N. Tonkin & Nicholas G. Midgley
ice-cored moraines in sub-Arctic Sweden we can get a better School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences,
understanding of how the morphology of these features will Nottingham Trent University, Brackenhurst Campus, Southwell,
Nottinghamshire NG25 0QF, UK.
potentially evolve under a warming climate.

Outburst floodcharacteristics

of a glacier-dammed lake in Northeast Greenland

Daniel Binder, Geo Boffi, Sebastian Mertl, Gernot Weyss, Bernd Kulessa, Michele Citterio,
Andreas Wieser & Wolfgang Schöner



During the annual melting period, a glacier-dammed side AIMS OF THE PROJECT
valley is filled with meltwater from snow and ice of the sur- The overall aim of the project was to gain a deep insight into the
rounding glaciers. A significant but at the same time short- driving mechanism(s) of the observed GLOF. Therefore, a GPS
lived lake is built up in about two months. Eventually, the lake and geophysical monitoring programme was initiated to regis-
water overcomes the icy barrier and is totally drained in just ter the seismic activity as well as the corresponding glacier sur-
several hours. Consequently, a catastrophic flood wave rushes face dynamics due to the infiltrating lake water. Furthermore, a
through the valley. ground-penetrating radar (GPR) survey was conducted in spring
2012 to get some information on the present state from inside
This glacial phenomenon is described by the Icelandic term the glacier’s ice mass (englacial) as well as from the glacier’s bed
“jökulhlaup”, respectively “glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF)”. (subglacial). Based on the derived dataset, a conceptual model is
The classic GLOF-theory just covers the slowly-rising type, currently being developed.
which exhibits an exponentially rising flood discharge over
days and weeks. The more catastrophic, rapid-rising GLOFs WHAT DID WE DO?
show a linear rising flood discharge over hours and days and In April 2012 we installed the geophysical (passive seismics) and
cannot be explained by the classic theory. Thus process-orien- GPS monitoring network on the investigated glacier. Besides set-
tated studies are needed. ting up the monitoring stations at the glacier surface, we drilled
three metres deep boreholes to sink the seismic sensors and
A project called “GlacioBurst” followed a continuous GPS and covered the boreholes with an insulating geotextile to avoid an
geophysical monitoring strategy over the whole fill- and drain untimely melt out. Parallel to the installation of the all-year round
cycle in 2012. The data set gathered shows a highly active initi- monitoring network, we conducted a GPR survey to receive an
ation and outburst phase, typical for the rapid-rising GLOF type. actual snapshot of the englacial and subglacial conditions.


At the bottom of the drained ice-dammed side valley at 5
the A.P. Olsen Ice Cap (Daniel Binder).


We worked at the SE outlet glacier of the predominantly cold- En- and subglacial hydrological processes are the key to
based A.P. Olsen Ice Cap in Northeast Greenland, about 30 km understand fundamental glacial processes. Due to their
inland from the Zackenberg Research Station (• 70). During a past inaccessibility, direct observations are sparse in time and
expedition in 2008, we already gathered highly interesting GPR space which results in a lack of process-oriented, quan-
data. The GPR data showed englacial and subglacial signals most titative understanding. Thus high quality field data are
likely closely related to the regular outburst floods. During the needed to test existing models and new hypotheses. Once
GPR data analysis the idea of the GPS and geophysical monitoring the basic physics are understood, a quantitative model
grew and was realized in 2012. can be set up and can be tested for other settings.

WHAT DID WE FIND? Besides the fundamental understanding of the driving

Due to the very successful field campaign, we could gather a pre- physics, glacial flood waves are shaping the landscapes
cious data set which is currently being analyzed by the project on different scales. Heinrich Events during the last glacial
team. Beside the high quality GPR data, the passive seismic and period are connected to the release of excessively large
GPS data reveal a highly active GLOF initiation phase, typical for a amounts of freshwater by the Laurentide Ice Sheet with an
rapid-rising GLOF. The first results suggest the infiltration of a high- impact on the global climate. One hypothesis to explain
pressurised water sheet at the ice dam-glacier bed intersection at the Heinrich Events and the large amounts of freshwater
least one week before the outburst itself. The GPR survey revealed involved are rapid mega-GLOFs.
glacier bed characteristics pointing as well to a rather subglacial
infiltration of the lake water and furthermore, uncovered highly
interesting englacial structures closely related to the GLOF.

The origin of the pro-glacial

river before (a) and during
(b) the outburst on the 6th
of August 2012. Please note
for scale the person in the
left, lower corner on the
upper picture
(Gernot Weyss).


Evolution of the ice-

dammed lake at the
A.P. Olsen Ice Cap in the
ablation (melt) period
of 2009 showing the
chronological sequence
of the fill and drain cycle
(GeoBasis, Aarhus University).

The left figure shows the outline

of the investigated outlet glacier

at the A.P. Olsen Ice Cap. The black
arrowed lines represent locations
and directions of selected GPR
Profiles B and C. Blue areas show
the ice-dammed lake and an
active glacier mill (point).


5 Distance (m) Distance (m)
0 1000 2000 3000 4000 5000 6000 7000 8000 9000 0 200 400 600 800
0 0 0 0
530 m a.s.l. 1375 m a.s.l. c


depth (m)
100 1000
Two-Way-Traveltime (ns)

3000 2000
0 0 0 0
b d

depth (m)
100 1000

3000 2000

Diagrammes (a) and (b) represent

corresponding GPR data for Profile
B (top figure). Diagrammes (c) and
(d) are the corresponding migrated
–0.2 sections for Profile C (top figure). The
1 August
2 August red arrow in diagramme (a) indicates
the crossing point of Profile C on
–0.25 3 August
Profile B.
4 August
–0.3 Outburst
Northing (m)

6 August
5 August

7 August

–0.4 8 August

A 9 August
0.1 0.15 0.2 0.25 0.3 0.35 0.4 0.45 0.5
Easting (m)

Horizontal anomaly (cm)

15 APO3

0 First GPS Results. (A) shows the

C horizontal variation of the GPS station
Vertical anomaly (cm)

APO2. A clear reversal of flow direction
can be distinguished during the GLOF
0 on the 6th of August 2012. (B) and (C)
–5 illustrate the horizontal and vertical
–10 surface motion anomalies of GPS
–15 stations APO2-4, which reveal a highly
0 2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16
Time (days)
active phase approximately1 week
before the GLOF itself.



The ice-dammed side valley on the 5th of August (a) and at the end (b) of the GLOF on the 6th of August 2012.
The GLOF took about 10 hours (Gernot Weyss).

(a) (b) (c)

Drilling of a borehole and deployment of a seismic sensor
(S. Mertl (a), G.Weys (b), D. Binder (c)). Further information
Binder D.1, G. Boffi2, S. Mertl3, G. Weyss1, B. Kulessa4, M. Citterio5,
A. Wieser2 & W. Schöner1
Climate Section, ZAMG Vienna, Austria
Institute of Geodesy and Photogrammetry, ETH Zurich, Switzerland
Mertl Research GmbH, Vienna, Austria
Beating the odds, a GlacioBurst research team member wit- 4
Glaciology Group, Swansea University, UK
nessed the GLOF on the 6th of August 2012. In the summer, the 5
Department of Marine Geology and Glaciology,
investigated glacier is just reachable by foot, which means an GEUS Copenhagen, Denmark
approximate 30 km hike in the wilderness of NE Greenland. The
original mission was to stay one day at the glacier to get the
data and do a basic station service. The two-persons field team The field trip was funded by EU FP7 INTERACT. Seismic devices
arrived in the night-time of the 5th of August and were woken were provided by SeisUK, a branch of the Natural Environment
up by sounds of a violent torrent in the morning of the 6th of Research Council, UK. Borehole geophones were provided by the
August. They instantly realized that the GLOF was happening Department of Geophysics of the Vienna University of Technology.
just at that moment.

2 Permafrost

Margareta Johansson

Permafrost is an integral part of many northern landscapes.

It has profound implications for infrastructures and econo-
mies in the North and interacts with many ecosystems. Per-
mafrost is any material that stays at or below 0 °C for two or
more consecutive years. Permafrost can occur in soils or other
ground surface materials (from peat or clay to boulders) and
in bedrock. On top of the permafrost is an “active layer” which
thaws and refreezes on a seasonal basis. Its thickness varies
depending on climate, vegetation cover and soil type, from
a few tens of centimetres in peat to more than several metres
in areas with well-drained (and therefore poorly insulating) 2
materials. The permafrost below can be everything from a
few tens of centimetres thick to the record which is more than
1,400 m thick. As permafrost is mainly a product of cold cli-
mates, whenever the Earth’s climate has been cold enough in
the past, permafrost has formed. Most of the permafrost that
exists today was formed during the past 100,000 years. During
the Last Glacial Maximum (ca. 18,000 years ago) permafrost
was more widespread than at present. In addition to air tem-
peratures, local factors such as snow cover, vegetation, soil
organic layer thickness, thermal (insulating) properties of the
earth materials, soil moisture/ice content and drainage condi-
tions are also important factors influencing the presence or
absence of permafrost.

Yukon Coastal Plain (Anna Konopczak).


Permafrost currently underlays 20-25% of the landmasses in Unlike other cryospheric (frozen water) components such as
the Northern Hemisphere. It is widespread at high latitudes snow, glaciers, sea-, river- and lake-ice, it is not always possible
but also occurs at lower latitudes, where permafrost is mainly to see whether an area is underlain by permafrost or not. How-
found in mountainous areas such as the Himalayas. Perma- ever, there are some specific landforms that are permafrost-
frost is usually divided into four different categories according related such as ice-wedge or tundra polygons that are prob-
to the proportion of the landscape it underlays; 1) continu- ably the most widespread periglacial landforms (areas where
ous permafrost at the highest latitudes where 90-100% of the frost action and permafrost related processes dominate) in
ground is underlain by permafrost (Figure 2.1) 2) discontinu- lowland continuous and discontinuous permafrost areas (Sec-
ous permafrost further south where 50-90% is underlain by tion 2 cover photo). Ice wedges are formed during the coldest
permafrost 3) sporadic permafrost near the southern bound- winter periods due to cracking resulting from contraction. In
ary of permafrost where 10-50% is underlain by permafrost the same permafrost zones, another permafrost-related land-
and 4) isolated islands of permafrost at the boundary where form is found – the “pingo”. Pingos are hills, typically conical in
0-10% is underlain by permafrost. Figure 2.2 shows a concep- shape, that contain a core of massive ice. In the southern parts
tual transect from south to north illustrating the increasing of the permafrost zone, a typical permafrost-related landform
extent of permafrost when moving north. called “palsas” can be found. Palsas are peat mounds with a
frozen core. Their position, elevated above their surroundings,
In addition to the vast areas of permafrost found on land in the keeps them cold during winter as snow is blown from the top
2 Northern Hemisphere, permafrost is also found under the Arc- and the ground is therefore not insulated.
tic Ocean at the sea bottom. It is found below the continental
shelves extending from the coastline of Siberia, in the Beringia WHY SHOULD WE STUDY PERMAFROST?
area and in the northwest part of Canada. This permafrost was Increasing permafrost temperatures will have many major
formed during the last glaciation, when the sea level was much impacts such as on local hydrology, vegetation, biogeochemi-
lower than today and the continental shelves were landscapes cal and biogeophysical cycling (land-atmosphere linkages:
above the sea. The cold temperatures in the Arctic Ocean have Section 4), infrastructure and our possibility to learn more
preserved the permafrost for thousands of years. about old diseases, extinct animals and human cultures.

Continuous permafrost
Discontinuous permafrost
Sporadic permafrost
Isolated patches
Subsea permafrost

Figure 2.1  Permafrost is widespread in high latitude and high altitude areas. It also exists under the Arctic Ocean below the
continental shelves (Hugues Lantuit . The data for creating the map was derived/modified from the original 1:10,000,000 paper map by Brown and
others 1998 ).

Rockfall Active-layer
detachment Beach-fast
ice Bottom-fast
ice Land-fast
ice Pack
Pingos ice

thaw slump Transient
Mineral soil
Discontinuous Organic soil
permafrost Ice wedges
Talik Continu
Bedrock ous perm

Gas hydrates Seaso Sea floor vents

n lay
and features
ed permafro

Figure 2.2  A conceptual transect of the distribution of permafrost and permafrost features from the sub-Arctic to the
continental shelves (Callaghan and others 2011).

Hydrology: There are innumerous lakes in permafrost areas impact on berry production that in turn affects local people
(Sections 1 and 6) but they constantly change in a warming and wildlife such as bears. Dielissen and her group (Science
climate. An increasing active layer can result in both pond Story 2.2) have studied the shift in plant community composi-
formation as well as pond/lake disappearance. In some areas tion as a consequence of changes in permafrost.
ponds dry out as the water can then find new pathways to
drain. The opposite scenario with pond formation can occur
in areas of ice-rich permafrost. When the active layer becomes
thicker, the ice in the ground melts and the ground sub-
sides. The depressed areas soon fill with water and a new
pond (called a thermokarst pond) forms. As a consequence
of new pond formation and pond drying out, the ecology of
the freshwater systems is also affected (Section 6). Adamson
and her group (Science Story 2.1) explored how the seasonal
changes in active layer thickness would affect the location of
meltwater streams from glaciers to downstream lakes and the
type of materials that were transported.

Vegetation: Vegetation can vary greatly from polar desert

to spruce forest in land areas underlain by permafrost. Veg-
etation changes are predicted for the future, some related to
changes in permafrost others due to other factors (Section 5).
Examples where ongoing changes in permafrost have affected
the vegetation are “drunken forests” (Figure 2.3). Drunken for-
ests occur when the active layer thickness increases and the
ground becomes unstable. Trees with shallow roots such as
spruce are particularly vulnerable and can fall. At the margins
of permafrost existence where permafrost has started to thaw,
vegetation changes have been reported from e.g. dwarf shrub
dominated plant communities to a community dominated Figure 2.3  Vegetation affected by permafrost thawing and
by graminoids (grasses, sedges and rushes) and this has an ground subsidence – “Drunken Forest” (Trofim Maximov).

Biogeochemical cycling: Land areas underlain by permafrost

store approximately twice as much carbon (e.g. decaying,

old vegetation) as is currently in the atmosphere (Section 4).
When permafrost temperatures and active layer thickness are
increasing, organic material that has previously been frozen
in the ground thaws and can be decomposed and its carbon
emitted as either carbon dioxide (CO2) or methane (CH4).
These greenhouse gases contribute to increases in the green-
house effect in the atmosphere and hence amplify current cli-
mate changes (Section 4). Monitoring of carbon fluxes from
land has been ongoing for more than a decade. However, to
understand all the carbon cycling processes in a landscape it
is important to monitor both the changes on land and also
ongoing change in lakes. Lichens and shrubs from drier areas
can become flooded when permafrost thaws and form a
source of dissolved organic material in the new ponds. This Figure 2.4  House built on pillars in Barentsburg, Svalbard.
material can then be released as carbon dioxide or methane These pillars allow air circulation underneath the building to
to the atmo­sphere. protect the permafrost (Margareta Johansson).
Jammet and her group have focused their study on monitor-
ing both the land and lake fluxes of greenhouse gases (Sci-
ence Story 2.3). The release of greenhouse gases results from
the metabolism of soil microbes that occur in organic soils
and the carbon isotopes in dead plant matter change in pro-
portion as young, easily decomposed material is respired by
microorganisms and older carbon is lost more slowly. Krüger
and Alewell (Science Story 2.4) use the distribution of stable
isotopes down through the peat to infer the development and
degradation of palsas. In addition to the great carbon storage
on land, the sub-sea permafrost also holds carbon (a reservoir
expected to be almost as big as the carbon pool stored in land
permafrost). However, it is not known how sensitive this car-
bon is to ongoing changes in sub-sea permafrost and to what
extent it will actually be emitted. Because of the vast extent
of permafrost in the North, it is necessary to develop remote
sensing techniques with ground validation to observe change Figure 2.5  Ice in the permafrost has melted and the ground
(Science Story 2.5). has collapsed resulting in a house that is no longer possible
to live in (Vladimir Romanovsky).
Infrastructure: Infrastructure built on permafrost can be any-
thing from roads and houses to pipelines that transport oil and
natural gas from the North to the South. In areas of ice-rich per-
mafrost, permafrost thawing can have severe impacts on infra-
structure since surface subsidence can occur. It is necessary to
adapt (Science Story 2.7) and use special building techniques
to avoid affecting the temperature of the ground. Houses are
for example, often built on pillars to allow air circulation under-
neath the building so that the heat from the building does
not affect the ground underneath and cause the permafrost
to thaw (Figure 2.4). An example where special building tech-
niques have not been applied has resulted in an Arctic house
competing with the leaning tower of Pisa (Figure 2.5)!

Villages in Alaska have had to re-locate due to coastal erosion

(a combined effect of decreasing sea ice in the Arctic Ocean Figure 2.6  Landscape on the New Siberian Islands showing
and changes in permafrost conditions). Consequently, perma- massive permafrost degradation that is so fast that
frost scientists have an important role in advising communi- vegetation cannot become established and remains of
ties (for example in Alaska) where to re-locate villages. They extinct animals are surfacing (Terry V. Callaghan, 1994).

need to avoid ice-rich ground that will result in very costly bodies that have been buried for centuries can start to thaw.

infrastructure development as special caution is needed when This can of course in some areas pose problems to health
building new infrastructure. In some areas of Arctic Russia, but it is also an opportunity to learn more about ancient dis-
erosion of the coast and hinterlands is particularly dramatic eases and human cultures. Permafrost also preserves remains
through permafrost thaw (Figure 2.6). In contrast to the vul- of extinct animals such as the woolly mammoths which are
nerable examples from Alaska, many coastal settlements in becoming evident along river banks where erosion takes
Greenland are built on bedrock and ground subsidence is not place and in areas of rapid permafrost degradation.
an issue there.
Old diseases, extinct animals and human cultures: People have To detect what happens to the permafrost in a warming world
been living in areas with permafrost for many centuries and there are two general factors that are monitored throughout
people have been buried in the permafrost. As the permafrost the Arctic and beyond. The first factor being monitored to
acts as a big freezer, many bodies, clothing and artefacts have detect changes in permafrost during current climate change
been preserved. When the active layer thickness increases, is permafrost temperatures. During the International Polar

Figure 2.7  Borehole drilling to initiate

monitoring of permafrost temperatures
(Jonas Åkerman).

Year (2007-2009) the project “Thermal State of Permafrost” CURRENT AND FUTURE TRENDS

developed a standardised method to record permafrost tem- There are relatively few long-term (several decades) perma-
peratures by drilling boreholes and measuring temperatures frost temperature series from the Arctic. From the few that
deep inside them. Many new boreholes were made during exist, the general trend is that the permafrost temperatures
the project and temperatures were recorded according to the have increased between 0.5 to 2 °C during the last three dec-
new methods developed (Figure 2.7). Permafrost temperature ades. The highest increases in temperatures are found in the
data showing changes over the years can be downloaded zone of continuous permafrost. In some areas (such as in the
from the GTN-P database ( Nordic countries, Northeast Greenland, the Russian European
North), the trend in increasing temperatures has been accom-
The second factor being monitored is the active layer’s thick- panied by a trend in increasing active layer thickness. Where
ness. This is recorded at least annually at the end of the sum- permafrost temperatures are very low, the consequences of
mer season (when it is thickest) to measure how much of the warming permafrost are minor but where permafrost temper-
upper soil has thawed during the summer (Figure 2.8). The Cir- atures are close to the limit of permafrost, increasing tempera-
cumpolar Active Layer Monitoring Programme (CALM www. tures can result in its loss. has developed a standardised methodol-
ogy to record active layer thickness using a 100 m ground sur- The future fate of permafrost is being predicted by several
face grid which is divided into 100 squares, each 10 by 10 m. models. Permafrost models rely on projections of Arctic warm-
Data from active layer measurements is available in the CALM ing calculated by general circulation models. Even though the
2 database at . detailed output of the models can vary from one model to
another, they all predict a continued trend in warmer ground
Monitoring of active layer thickness and ground temperatures temperatures, thicker active layers and a continuing increase
is done at a relatively small scale at particular sites. However, in permafrost thawing at its southernmost boundary by the
permafrost in large areas of the Arctic is not monitored. To get end of the 21st century.
a better overview of what is going on at a larger scale, other
methods are being used such as remote sensing (e.g. use of
satellite images). The site monitoring is usually in turn used
as ground truthing, i.e. checking the information taken from
space at specific locations.

Key messages and needs for further research
Ongoing changes in climate affect the state of permafrost which can have

profound implications for both the natural environment and on society.
The Arctic Council’s working group Arctic Monitoring and Assessment
Programme (AMAP) presented in 2011 the Snow, Water, Ice and Perma-
frost in the Arctic (SWIPA) Assessment that had a specific chapter on per-
mafrost that described ongoing changes, future changes, and impacts.
This section also listed several key questions and future recommenda-
tions. An example was “a need to better integrate observing techniques
including the further development of remote sensing to complement in
situ observations and expansion of in situ observations to validate and
explain information derived from remote sensing”. This is what Elin Hög-
ström and her group (Science Story 2.5) have been addressing when visit-
ing Siberia to retrieve information that could be used to validate informa-
tion on soil moisture derived from satellites. Even though there are many
key questions and recommendations yet to cover, INTERACT has actively
contributed to solve some of the important issues.

Further information and references

Margareta Johansson,
Department of Physical Geography and Ecosystem Science,
Lund University, Sweden


Brown, J., Ferrians, O.J. Jr., Heginbottom, J.A. and Melnikov, E.S. 1998, revised 2001. Circum-
Arctic Map of Permafrost and Ground Conditions. United States Geological -Ice Survey-
Series, CP-45. Reston, VA, USA. (ISBN , Circum-Pacific Map 0-607-88745-1)
Callaghan, T.V., Johansson, M., Anisimov, O. and others 2011. Chapter 5: Changing perma-
frost and its impacts. In: Snow, Water, Ice and Permafrost in the Arctic (SWIPA) 2011. Arctic
Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP), Oslo. 63 pp.
Christiansen, H.H., Etzelmuller, B., Isaksen, K. and others 2010. The Thermal State of Perma-
frost in the Nordic area during IPY 2007-2009. Permafrost and Periglacial Processes 21:
Forbes, D.L. (ed) 2011. State of the Arctic Coast 2010 – Scientific Review and Outlook. Inter-
national Arctic Science Committee, Land-Ocean Interactions in the Coastal Zone, Arctic
Monitoring and Assessment Programme, International Permafrost Association. Helm-
holtz- Zentrum, Geesthacht, Germany, 178 p.
Romanovsky, V.E., Drozdov, D.S., Oberman, N.G. and others 2010. Thermal State of Perma-
frost in Russia. Permafrost and Periglacial Processes 21:136-155.
Romanovsky, V.E., Smith, S.L. and Christiansen, H.H. 2010. Permafrost thermal state in the
polar Northern Hemisphere during the international polar year 2007-2009: a synthesis
Permafrost and Periglacial Processes 21:106-116.
Smith, S.L., Romanovsky, V.E., Lewkowicz, A.G. and others 2010. Thermal State of Permafrost
in North America – A Contribution to the International Polar Year. Permafrost and Perigla-
cial Processes 21:117-135.

Figure 2.8  The thickness of the active layer

is measured in northern Sweden at the end
of the summer to record the maximum thaw
depth for the season. A thermokarst pond
is surrounded peatland vegetation and
underlain by permafrost (Jonas Åkerman).

1 km

The influence of permafrost


on glacial meltwater
Ice Cap
and sediment transfer
Kathryn Adamson & Tim Lane

Permafrost is ground that remains permanently frozen for at least

two years. It underlies over 20% of the Earth’s land surface in the
Northern Hemisphere, and is very sensitive to changes in air tem-
perature. On top of the permafrost is a layer that thaws in the
summer, called the active layer. The response of permafrost and
the active layer to climate change may have important impacts
on Arctic landscapes. Many glaciers in the Arctic, and in mountain
2 regions across the world, are located in areas of permafrost. The
• powerful meltwater streams draining the glaciers may be eroding
Walking route
Arctic Station the thawed active layer, leading to major changes in the glacial
Fording point environment.
GPR Survey

Annotated map of the Arctic Station, river crossing

points, and GPR survey location (Background aerial AIMS OF THE PROJECT
photograph from Kort og Matrikelstyrelsen). Our research aimed to investigate how seasonal changes in perma-
frost influence glacial meltwater streams (which carry water away
from glaciers during the summer melt period). In particular, we
wanted to answer two key questions:
„„ How do changes in permafrost affect the location of meltwa-
ter streams?
„„ And what does this mean for the type of material they carry?

To achieve our aim, we completed two field seasons, during winter

and summer, at Lyngmarksbræen, an ice cap on Disko Island, West
Greenland. We worked at an outlet glacier (a lobe of ice flowing from
the main dome of the ice cap) on the east side of Lyngmarksbræen.

The GPR being used in front of the glacier snout

during winter. The transect along which the survey
has been taken can be seen behind the GPR. The
photograph has been taken looking east
(Kathryn Adamson).

Printout of processed results from a GPR transect in front of the studied glacier.
Position (m)
0 2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20 22 24 26 28 30 32 34 36 38 40 42 44 46 48 50 52 54 56 58 60
0 0

Depth (m), V=0.064 (m/s)

Time (ns)


5 150

YLINE00 Col: 2013-08-06 Freq: 100 MHz Proc: Dewow + SEC2 Gain (Attenuation: 1.00 Start Gain: 2.00 Maximum Gain: 500)

To measure changes in the permafrost and active Although our analysis is on-going, we detected large changes in the
layer, we used ground penetrating radar (GPR). A state of the permafrost between the winter and summer. This is to be
GPR transmitter emits a signal into the ground that expected, as the “active layer” warms and thaws during the summer. At
bounces off solid objects, such as rocks and ice, and that time, the glacier is also in its melt phase, and the streams become
is then detected by a receiver. The signal penetrates very powerful, eroding and transporting large amounts of sediment
down to 6 m below ground. Without it, we would that are frozen during the winter. Our analysis aims to establish whether
not know what the sub-surface looks like without enhanced thawing of the permafrost, due to climate change, might lead
digging lots of holes! In the field, we pulled the GPR to greater erosion of permafrost in the glacier foreland.
behind us on a sledge, starting at the glacier snout
and walking down the valley, taking measurements We also collaborated with researchers from the University of Copenha-
every 25 cm. We repeated this in the winter and the gen, using the GPR to explore the ground close to the Arctic Station.
summer. Once the snow had melted in the summer
we also mapped the meltwater streams draining WHY ARE THE RESULTS IMPORTANT?
from the ice cap. Back at the research station, we Our measurements can be combined with detailed climate records to
used computer software to process the data and investigate the impacts of climate change on the permafrost that could 2
develop an image of the sub-surface. lead to major changes in the glacial environment. •
We also wanted to understand the type of sedi- THE ADVENTURE
ment (e.g. pebbles, sand, and silt) that the meltwater All this makes the fieldwork sound easy! Travelling to Disko Island from
streams were carrying and where this material had the UK takes around three days, using an exciting mixture of planes,
come from. We took sediment samples from the trains, helicopters, boats, and snowmobiles. The glacier was only 15
active layer and meltwater streams in the glacier km away from Arctic Station, but getting there was a real adventure. In
foreland. We then analysed the grain size of these winter, temperatures were around -15°C and the snow was up to 1 m
samples using a machine in the laboratory. We could thick. Our rucksacks, which were filled with GPR equipment, weighed
then match the characteristics of the sediments in over 25 kg. Luckily, the meltwater streams were frozen and we could use
the stream to the different sample sites on the fore- crampons to walk on the ice. In summer, we still had the heavy rucksacks,
land – it is a kind of sediment “fingerprinting”. but the meltwater streams had thawed into powerful, ice cold rivers – we
crossed six of these during a 12 hour walk to the site. It was all worth it to
WHERE DID WE WORK? camp only 500 m away from the glacier snout and eat our breakfast with
Disko Island is just off the west coast of Greenland, such a fantastic view. After spending days living off rudimentary food
in the same bay as Jakobshavn Isbræ – the fastest cooked on our camping stove, we were always pleased to return to the
moving glacier in the world. We were lucky enough comfort of the Arctic Station and share our experiences with the other
to stay at the Arctic Station (• 66) – close to the town researchers.
of Qeqertarsuaq, southern Disko. This area was ideal
for our study because a number of ice caps and val- The Lyngmarksbræen meltwater stream in summer. The snout of the
ley glaciers are located only a short (6 hours!) hike outlet glacier can be seen in the background (Tim Lane).
away from the station. The Arctic Station hosts inter-
national experts and during our stay we met other
researchers: marine biologists, ecologists, and per-
mafrost experts, among many others. It made for
very interesting discussions over the dinner table!

Further information
Kathryn Adamson1 & Tim Lane2
Manchester Metropolitan University, UK
Liverpool John Moores University, UK


The foreland of Lyngmarksbræen (Tim Lane).

Plant community controls on thawing permafrost soils

Esther Dielissen, Bjorn J.M. Robroek & Ellen Dorrepaal

Permafrost (perennially frozen) soils underlay many of the world’s

boreal and Arctic peatlands. These frozen peat soils are generally nutri-
ent poor, and potential plant and microbe–available nutrients are
locked up in the ice. Climate-warming-induced soil thawing may unlock
these nutrients, which then become available to plants and microbes.
This could lead to positive climate feedbacks through greenhouse gas
release from enhanced microbial decomposition. On the other hand,
permafrost thawing could have negative feedbacks through increased
plant nutrient uptake near the thaw front (the position of a transition
2 zone between deeper, frozen soil and shallower, unfrozen soil also
• called “active layer”), which results in increased sequestration of atmos-
2 pheric carbon dioxide by stimulated plant growth (Section 4). Addition-
ally, permafrost thawing provides more seasonally available unfrozen
soil, offering opportunities for plants to further develop their root sys-
tems. Because plant species are likely to differ in their responses to these
“opportunities”, we envisaged that permafrost thawing changes plant
interspecific interactions, ultimately leading to changes in plant com-
munity composition and ecosystem functioning.

Taking soil cores in a plot dominated by

Eriophorum vaginatum (cotton grass).
In July, frost depths for these plots
ranged between 40 cm up to 50-60 cm at
locations with deeper thaw (Rahel Pluess).

The Abisko Scientific Research

Station with the “Lapporten”
(“The Lappish Gate”) valley and
peaks in the background of the
picture (Philipp Theuring).

AIMS OF THE PROJECT tion attracts an international community of researchers who
We aimed to investigate how plant community composition are specialized in climate change related subjects, due to its
interacts with plant root distribution, plant root activity and long history as a meteorological monitoring station, good
microbial activity in thawing permafrost soils. Different plant accessibility, research facilities, and surroundings, which
communities were compared, varying from plant communi- offer a high variability in hydrological, geological and eco-
ties of several species (further referred to as “diverse” commu- logical conditions.
nities) to communities that were dominated by one species.
In these communities, we tested if plant roots were able to WHAT DID WE FIND?
reach the deeper soil layers near the thaw front. Additionally, As expected, we found alive and active roots close to the
we aimed to study the activity of the microbial community in permafrost, at a depth of 50-75 cm, especially in Empetrum
releasing previously inaccessible nutrients (by studying enzy- nigrum dominated plots. Yet, microbial (enzyme) activity
matic activities) and hence, the uptake of nutrients by plant decreased with depth and was negligible at the permafrost
roots (i.e. root activity). thaw front. Microbial (enzyme) activity decreased strong-
est with depth in highly water-saturated plots, which may
WHAT DID WE DO? be explained by the lack of oxygen needed by microbes in
We used local variation in active layer depth at the field site those soils. 2
to simulate various degrees of permafrost thawing. Plots were •
laid out in “diverse” plant communities, and plots that were WHY ARE THE RESULTS IMPORTANT? 2
dominated by either dwarf birch (Betula nana), crowberry This study was, to our knowledge, the first attempt to find
(Empetrum nigrum) or cotton grass (Eriophorum vaginatum). out if plant community diversity affects root activity and
microbial (enzyme) activity in permafrost soils. By further
From early July and late September (i.e. when a large part of investigating apparent connections between permafrost
the soil above the permafrost has seasonally thawed), soil thaw and plant community composition, and by revealing
cores were taken from each plot, and analyzed in the lab. From underlying soil processes (decomposition and root growth),
these soil samples we measured enzyme activities. Shortly, we can better estimate potential feedbacks on our climate.
we measured phosphatase activity, an important enzyme
involved in releasing phosphorus, and phenoloxidase, an indi- THE ADVENTURE
cator of microbial decomposition. Furthermore, we measured The research station of Abisko is situated beautifully, along-
the abundance and mass of plant roots present at various side the 70 km long Torneträsk lake, surrounded by rough
peat soil depths to determine the vertical distribution of roots tundra terrain and high mountains. The often snow cov-
above the permafrost thaw front, which we assumed to be ered Lapporten peaks are a particularly breath-taking land
related to the presence of available nutrients. mark. Being at the station from July to October provided the
opportunity to observe both the midnight sun and north-
WHERE DID WE WORK? ern lights, which are truly amazing sub-Arctic phenomena.
The fieldwork took place in permafrost tundra near the village In August/September, the species of birch and willow, which
of Abisko and the Abisko National Park in Swedish Lapland, dominate the landscape, shift quite suddenly to autumn col-
about 200 km north of the Arctic Circle (68°21’ N, 18°49’ E). ours, which is a remarkable sight. Also, the cloudberries (a
Our lab work was done at the Abisko Scientific Research Sta- typically sub-Arctic berry) that covered the field site gradu-
tion (• 11), a sub-Arctic and alpine field station. This field sta- ally ripened, which provided a nice extra to our lunch!

Field location lighting up orange in the autumn sun, with Further information
both mixed species communities and communities that I. Esther Dielissen1, Bjorn J.M. Robroek2 & Ellen Dorrepaal3
were dominated by one species. The species that stands
out most in this picture is Eriophorum vaginatum (cotton 1
Utrecht University, The Netherlands
grass) (Esther Dielissen, September 2011).
École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland
Umeå University/ Climate Impacts Research Centre, Sweden


Dorrepaal, E., Toet, S., van Logtestijn, R.S.P. and others 2009.
­Carbon respiration from subsurface peat accelerated by cli-
mate warming in the subarctic. Nature 460: 616-620.
Keuper, F., van Bodegom, P.M., Dorrepaal, E. and others 2012.
A frozen feast: thawing permafrost increases plant-available
nitrogen in subarctic peatlands. Global Change Biology

Greenhouse gas dynamics

in a changing sub-Arctic landscape

Mathilde Jammet, Patrick Crill & Thomas Friborg

Sub-Arctic ecosystems such as in northernmost Scandi-

navia are especially sensitive to climate changes because
they experience a mean annual temperature close to 0 °C.
2 Although its coverage is discontinuous, permafrost is still
• present, which means that crossing the 0 °C threshold can
3 trigger large landscape changes. In parts of the lowlands,
vegetated wetlands and ponds are already expanding at
The flux station measuring greenhouse the expense of dry tundra. Such ecosystem shifts induce
gas and energy exchanges between the changes in the greenhouse gas balance of those landscapes
atmosphere and the surface of the fen which, in turn, will affect climate.
and the Lake Villasjön (Mathilde Jammet).

AIMS OF THE PROJECT cal and geomorphological data. From palsa mounds to small
As part of the Nordic Center of Excellence DEFROST and the EU ponds, there is a high diversity of land and water surface types
project PAGE21, our project aims at increasing knowledge on in Stordalen depending on different stages of permafrost
greenhouse gas exchanges in sub-Arctic ecosystems affected thaw. This allows us to study several ecosystems and their rela-
by permafrost thaw. Specifically, we want to assess the impor- tionships within one landscape.
tance of lake surface emissions within the landscape. We seek
to extend knowledge from biologically active summer months WHAT DID WE FIND?
to the entire year including winter and the “shoulder seasons” Wind flow in Stordalen is channeled into either a NWN or ESE
spring and autumn, which represent crucial transition periods direction. Due to this wind pattern, our flux station records
for greenhouse gas dynamics. greenhouse gas exchanges in two different ecosystems: a
water-logged fen when wind comes from WNW and a shal-
WHAT DID WE DO? low (average depth 0.7 m) lake when wind comes from ESE. In
Within a peatland undergoing permafrost thaw, we mounted summer the lake emits less methane than the wetland it bor-
a permanent measurement station located between two eco- ders. However, this ratio varies from one season to another;
systems representative of a post-permafrost stage: a fen-type when snow and ice melt in spring, the largest release of
wetland and a shallow lake. The station measures surface- gases that were trapped during winter occurs at the lake. We
atmosphere exchanges of greenhouse gas and energy. Vari- therefore observed that winter is an important season for the
ous environmental information such as meteorological condi- production of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and
tions, soil and water properties, vegetation development and methane. In a wetland ecosystem, some can also be released
snow thickness have also been monitored, in order to explain through snow; 20% of the annual fen methane emissions
the variability in the fluxes observed at the station. were observed during the coldest season.


The work was conducted in the Stordalen Mire near Abisko in When trying to understand the full carbon cycling of Arctic
northernmost Sweden. Because the Abisko Scientific Research landscapes, one realizes that open water bodies have been
Station’s (• 11) activities started in 1913, scientific research in less studied than vegetated ecosystems. Yet lakes are numer-
Abisko benefits from extensive background knowledge to ous in northern latitudes (Sections 2 and 6) and can greatly
build upon as well as great facilities. affect the net carbon balance of a landscape (Section 4).
Besides, assessing the importance of each season for the
While ongoing permafrost thawing is observed in several peat annual greenhouse gas budget of those ecosystems is essen-
mires around Abisko, research in Stordalen already started in tial to predict their net impact on climate in a future when the
the 1950’s, which makes it particularly rich in ecological, physi- lengths of the seasons are very likely to change.

The wind blows alternately from two
main directions in Stordalen. The
N measuring mast is situated between
a fen-type wetland and a lake. It
records methane fluxes from the two
Resultant Vector different surfaces. Over the summer,
294 deg - 28%
the lake shows lower methane
Methane exchange emission rates than the fen, but more
Wind speed W E
between the atmosphere (ms-1)
extreme values.
8.8 - 11.1
and the two surfaces in 2012 5.7 - 8.8
400 3.6 - 5.7
2.1 - 3.6
0.5 - 2.1
Calms: 14.49%
CH4 flux (nmol m-2 s-1)

Fen Lake Fen Lake



June July August September October

THE ADVENTURE Palsa edge collapsing as a result of permafrost thaw in

Working in a remote environment always involves challenges the Stordalen mire (Mathilde Jammet).
regarding instrument transportation, power access and,
sometimes, even lightning strikes. But it is also an enchant-
ment throughout the year, from the dark cold winter with
northern lights to the green summer when the Sun never
sets. Located a few kilometres from the Norwegian mountain
range and right at the shore of the great Lake Torneträsk, the
Abisko area offers a scenic sub-Arctic landscape. Cooperation
with fellow researchers is natural in such an attractive field
site, which makes the research experience in Abisko
truly rich, not just scientifically but also personally.

The surroundings of Abisko, Further information

up in Kärkevagge, the “Stone Valley” Mathilde Jammet1, Patrick Crill2 & Thomas Friborg1
(Mathilde Jammet). Center for Permafrost (CENPERM),

Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management,

University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark
Department of Geological Sciences,

University of Stockholm, Stockholm, Sweden

Contact: m;;

Stable isotopes

Peatlands in the northern permafrost zone, where palsa

mires are widespread, store a great proportion of the global
as indicators of soil carbon pool and are projected to change by global
warming due to accelerated permafrost thaw.
environmental change
We used the natural abundance of stable carbon isotopes
Jan Paul Krüger & Christine Alewell at different depths down profiles of palsa peatlands near
Abisko, northern Sweden, to detect historical permafrost
aggradation (formation) as well as recent palsa degradation.



Crack along a degrading palsa (Jan Paul Krüger). A degrading palsa leading to thermokarst pond
development (Christine Alewell).

The palsa peatland investigated

at the Stordalen mire near
Abisko (Jan Paul Krüger).

We wanted to use stable carbon isotopes in soil profiles as Palsa peatlands are an important carbon pool and the carbon
indicators of palsa degradation processes. balance of these peatlands is predicted to be changed by the
current climate warming in this region. Natural abundance of
WHAT DID WE DO? stable carbon isotopes is a useful tool to detect palsa degra-
Soil cores were sampled from three palsa peatlands down to the dation and palsa development. These analyses help to under-
permafrost and were analysed for stable carbon isotope abun- stand processes related to these changes including peat for-
dance. Soil samples were taken in transects (lines constructed mation and peat decomposition.
to determine sample locations) from hollows and hummocks
including degraded sites of hummocks and hollows. THE ADVENTURE
Reaching the Abisko Scientific Research Station required travel
WHERE DID WE WORK? to northernmost Sweden. The station, where we used the good
We worked near the Abisko Scientific Research Station (• 11), infrastructure including the lab for our research, is situated
200 km north of the Arctic Circle. The research station is in the close to the beautiful lake Torneträsk. All the palsa peatlands
discontinuous permafrost region where palsa peatlands are investigated can be easily reached from the research station.
widespread. Close to the research station in Abisko there are 2
several palsa peatlands which are degrading due to acceler- δ13C (‰) •
ated permafrost thawing by climate warming in this region. 0
-30 -28 -26 -24 -22 -20
We analysed 36 soil profiles from degraded to non-degraded
sites in three palsa peatlands. In transects, we found signifi- 20
Depth (cm)

cant differences between the degraded and non-degraded

sites in stable carbon isotope abundance with increasing 30 minerotrophic
depth down the profiles. Palsa mires have a complex relief of
elevated areas, called hummocks, which are upheaved by per-
mafrost thickening and the wetter depressions in between,
called hollows. Differences in the depth patterns of stable δ13C
isotope abundance indicate the disturbance of hummocks C/N
by permafrost thawing as well as disturbance in the hollows 0 20 40 60 80 100
due to the input of degrading palsa material. Furthermore, C/N
isotopes indicate the uplifting of the peat by permafrost in Stable carbon isotope depth profile (represented as the
the intact palsas due to a change in decomposer metabolism change in proportion of the heavier carbon isotope 13C
(from anaerobic to aerobic). as well as carbon to nitrogen (C/N) ratio) at an intact
hummock from a palsa mire in northern Sweden.
Increasing δ13C values with depth as well as high C/N
ratios in the upper part indicate ombrotrophic conditions
(peat formation with low nutrient input). Decreasing
δ13C values with depth as well as low C/N ratios in the
lower part indicate minerotrophic conditions (peat
decomposition which releases nutrients). The change
from increasing to decreasing δ13C values indicates the
uplifting of hummocks by permafrost (Modified from Krüger
and others 2014).

Soil corer on an intact palsa Further information

hummock (Jan Paul Krüger). Jan Paul Krüger & Christine Alewell
Environmental Geosciences, University of Basel,
Bernoullistrasse 30, 4056 Basel, Switzerland


Alewell, C., Giesler, R., Klaminder, J. and others 2011. Stable carbon
isotopes as indicators for environmental change in palsa peats.
Biogeosciences 8:1769-1778, DOI:10.5194/bg-8-1769-2011.
Krüger, J.P., Leifeld, J. and Alewell, C 2014. Degradation changes
stable carbon isotope depth profiles in palsa peatlands. Biogeo-
sciences 11:3369-3380, DOI:10.5194/bg-11-3369-2014.

Validation of soil moisture data

from the Lena Delta retrieved by satellite

Elin Högström, Birgit Heim & Annett Bartsch

A thermokarst lake (thawed depression of permafrost Soil moisture is an important factor for model-
filled with water) in the landscape of Kurunghnak Island ers working on the global extent of permafrost.
(Elin Högström). Radar satellite data can be used to estimate sur-
face soil moisture (SSM) in remote areas that are
difficult and costly to access, such as in the Arctic.
Ground based in situ measurements are needed
however, to assess the applicability of such esti-
mates. Validation studies from the Arctic are rare
2 particularly as the available in situ networks for
• soil moisture collect data for various purposes
5 (e.g. process understanding and modelling)
with measuring equipment often installed deep
below the surface observed by satellites.


To validate coarse scale satellite derived SSM in the Arctic, in
situ data has already been collected from international meas-
urement networks across the region. For a deeper understand-
ing of how representative such in situ data are for comparison
with satellite-derived data, a new set-up of in situ measure-
ments was deployed during an expedition in the Lena Delta
in 2013. In this way, we can improve our understanding of the
radar signal over the tundra.


(b) (c)
The landscape of
(a) Grid photo documentation and grid point numbering for Samoylov Island
one of the 5 defined grids at Kurungnakh. (Birgit Heim).
(b) Installation of a shallow soil moisture measurement station.
(c) Instant measurements with a hand held sensor, which were
done across the grids (Elin Högström).

WHAT DID WE DO? perature happen comparatively slowly and to a small extent.

We set up five 30×30 m grids with as consistent/uniform vege- The in situ measurements in upper soil layers are expected
tation and topography as possible, as shown in Figure (a) to the to correspond well with the satellite data, which represents
left. Instant soil moisture measurements were made at depths precisely the uppermost few centimetres where the faster
of 3 and 5 cm in 28 points across each grid. The vegetation was changes occur. Laboratory analyses from moss samples taken
described for each point. Five shallow automatic soil measure- from Kurungnakh show the moisture characteristics of the
ment stations were also installed at Kurungnakh and Samoy- moss layer; water is permanently stored in the fibric layer (a
lov. Each measurement station consists of soil moisture sensors layer of decomposing old moss) below the porous living moss
and temperature sensors that are installed at two depths in layer. We installed one sensor in the living moss layer, and one
the uppermost soil layer (Figures (b)-(c) to the left). The depths in the fibric layer. The figure below shows the difference of soil
relate to the satellite sensor signal’s theoretical depth penetra- moisture behavior at two depths for various vegetation types
tion of 5-6 cm. The purpose of the grids was to evaluate snap- across sampling grids on Kurungnakh and Samoylov.
shots of fine resolution satellite data. The purpose of the soil sta-
tions is to evaluate coarse-scale satellite soil moisture over time WHY ARE THE RESULTS IMPORTANT?
(time series) from the satellite instrument ASCAT. The results help us to understand the satellite return signal in
the tundra which in turn can give us some insights about how
WHERE DID WE WORK? improvements can be made to the ASCAT soil moisture prod- 2
The Lena Delta offers a large suite of different permafrost uct. It contributes to the development of sensor networks for •
landscape types and tundra vegetation types that can be monitoring environmental conditions. By means of collabora- 5
logistically accessed via boat. The Research Station Samoylov tions within the EU Project PAGE21 this work contributes to
Island (• 38) is located on the island of Samoylov. Kurungnakh a better understanding of the environmental changes in the
is another island located only a few kilometres away. There is Arctic through satellite data improvement, thus facilitating
long-term monitoring on Samoylov, including automatic cli- improved large scale assessments.
mate and soil measurement stations (Boike and others 2013),
which has been useful for this current project as well. THE ADVENTURE
On the way back to Europe, the weather conditions did not
WHAT DID WE FIND? allow us to fly from Tiksi until several days later than the
Data from the newly installed measurement stations were col- planned departure, which in turn meant that we missed the
lected in August 2014. Comparison of other in situ measure- connecting flight from Yakutsk to Moscow and Berlin. This
ments with satellite data indicates that shallow installation of gave us time to explore the areas where we were waiting. We
sensors is an appropriate choice. The uppermost sensors are were invited by local people for raw frozen meat in the small
more directly affected by the atmospheric conditions than town of Tiksi and had the opportunity to visit the permafrost
the deeper soil layers, where changes in moisture and tem- museum in Yakutsk – the capital city of the Sakha Republic.

Kurugnakh Samoylov Further information

min Elin Högström1, Birgit Heim 2 & Annett Bartsch3
20 Vienna Technical University, Austrian Polar Research Institute

Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research,


Potsdam, Germany
VWC /%

10 Zentralanstalt für Meteorologie und Geodynamik, Austrian Polar


Research Institute & Technische Universität Wien, Vienna, Austria

0 Contact:

Boike, J., Kattenstroth, B., Abramova, K. and others (2013): Base-

-10 line characteristics of climate, permafrost, and land cover from
GTG M BS GTG M Samoylov Island, Lena River Delta, Siberia. DOI:10.1594/PAN-
Vegetation type
Marchenko, S., Romanovsky, V. and Tipenko, G. 2008. Numerical
Modeling of Spatial Permafrost Dynamics in Alaska. Proceed-
Minimum, maximum and average difference between
ings of the Ninth International Conference on Permafrost, Uni-
the volumetric water content (VWC) at 5-3 cm depth for versity of Alaska Fairbanks, Jun 29 – July 3, 2008, 2: 1125-1130.
various dominating vegetation types, measured across Yoshikawa, K., Overduin, P.P. and Harden, J.W. 2004. Moisture con-
grids at Kurungnakh and Samoylov. GTG = grass and tent measurements of moss (Sphagnum spp.) using commercial
tussuck grass, M = moss, BS = bare/sparsely vegetated sensors. Permafrost and Periglac. Process., 15: 309-318.

3 Snow
and ice

Gunhild Rosqvist

The Earth’s “cryosphere” includes snow, ice sheets, ice caps,

glaciers, frozen ground, and ice on rivers, lakes and oceans.
Higher air temperatures are resulting in rapid changes in Arc-
tic snow and ice extent and thickness. These changes matter
globally because of interactions between the climate and the
cryosphere, often leading to accelerated warming through
positive feedback mechanisms. For example, changes in snow
and ice cover influence the reflective character of the Earth’s
surface through changes in albedo (the reflection of heat from
the surface). Increased melt of snow and ice results in a fresh-
ening of ocean surface waters. This in turn is expected to lead
to a change in the ocean circulation, shifts in atmospheric cir-
culation patterns, and regional temperature and precipitation
trends and variability. Changes in snow and ice are also highly
important for ecosystems and people in the Arctic. The effects
of the present rapid rate of climate change, together with
other pressures on Arctic natural resources, are challenging
the traditional land use and livelihood of Arctic communities.
Knowledge of the history of climate change comes from
reconstructions using so-called natural climate archives. Sev-
eral well-preserved archives are located in the Arctic, and fore-
most among them are ice cores. Greenland ice cores provide
climate information spanning the last ca. 130,000 years (the
NEEM ice core). From such records we can derive information
on changes in temperature, precipitation, and atmospheric
circulation. Moreover, air bubbles in the ice preserve informa-
tion on the atmospheric concentrations of the greenhouse
gases carbon dioxide and methane. Such data are extremely
valuable because they show that greenhouse gas concen-
tration drives climate changes through the Earth’s radiation
budget. The ice core data also show that the current rate of
change in the Arctic is very rapid.

Environmental reconstructions using ice cores (and also lake

sediments and tree rings) have shown that summer tempera-
tures in the Arctic now are the highest for the past 2,000 years.
We also know that changes in seasonality of precipitation
have had large effects on terrestrial ecosystems and natural
resources, and, therefore, also on human society.

The Mittivakkat glacier front

nearby the Sermilik Research Station (• 68)
in Southeast Greenland (Edward Hanna).

CHANGING SNOW CONDITIONS ner snow pack, rain events in the winter and stronger and

Arctic snow cover has changed over at least the past 50 years perhaps more frequent rain events during the summer will all
(since recording by satellites began) in response to docu- affect river discharge patterns. The number of snow-covered
mented temperature increases and changes in the amount days and the water content of the snow pack are therefore
and timing of winter precipitation. Impacts of these changes important parameters to monitor.
on hydrological and ecological systems have become obvious
in many places. Snow influences Arctic ecosystems as it provides protection
from low winter temperatures, large temperature fluctuations,
Several important physical properties of snow influence cli- and herbivory. There is a close relationship between snow dis-
mate. Snow has a high albedo which means that the snow tribution and vegetation types. Low growing plants that can
surface reflects a large proportion of the incoming short-wave withstand high wind speeds and summer drought, like lichens,
radiation from the Sun, keeping the surface cool. Snow has a often grow on exposed areas where winter snow cover tends
low thermal conductivity, the effect of which is to insulate the to be thin whereas other plants that can withstand very short
ground and soil from the cold Arctic winter air above. Science growing seasons occupy depressions where snow accumu-
Story 3.1 shows how large crystals of depth hoar are important lates. Interactions between snow and vegetation/biodiversity
to the insulation of the ground in an area of Arctic Russia. Snow are complex as vegetation also influences the accumulation
cover depth, therefore, influences both temperature and mois- (including redistribution) and the ablation (melting) of snow.
ture conditions at the base of the snow pack which in turn set
the stage for hydrological, ecological and biogeochemical pro- As winters are getting warmer, mid-winter melt periods and
cesses in the seasonally frozen ground (to a few metres depth). rain-on-snow events occur more frequently. Because the
Snow cover also isolates the ground thereby protecting animals snow packs are cold, the rain water freezes and forms ice
under the snow from predators above and vegetation from her- crusts underneath (on the ground), within, or on top of the
bivores (Figure 3.1). snowpack. These ice layers prevent access to food by her-
bivores and pose severe challenges for reindeer and small
Variations in snow accumulation influence Arctic hydrology mammals such as lemmings that live in tunnels (“sub-nivean
3 significantly. For example, the seasonal discharge (flow) pat- cavities”) (Figure 3.1) under the snow. An increase in rein-
tern in Arctic rivers is affected because the thickness of the deer mortality has been noted after such events and lem-
snow cover, which determines the strength in the seasonal- ming population peaks have disappeared in many Arctic
ity of the hydrological cycle, is changing. Snow stores water areas (Section 5). Thick snow packs can lengthen the melt-
during the winter and releases it during spring melt. Hence, season, delay food availability in the spring, and have drastic
at present the highest discharge occurs during spring floods. effects on the populations of grazing animals. Trampling by
The expected future shorter snow accumulation season, thin- large animals such as reindeer hardens the snow pack. This

Figure 3.1  Energetic and ecological characteristics of an Arctic snow cover (Terry V. Callaghan modified from Callaghan and others 2011,
Callaghan and Johansson 2014, and Seibert and others 2014. Redrawn by Arview, Tomsk).

tends to happen when they reside in an area for a longer pollution impacts the snow’s energy budget; for example soot

period of time which is often the case when food is scarce. particles (elemental carbon), which are produced by burning
of fossil fuels and natural forest fires, darkens the snow sur-
Higher summer temperatures will increase the melt rate of face. Forest fires in North America have for example depos-
snowfields and eventually they may disappear. Successive ited soot on the Greenland Ice Sheet. This in turn decreases
melting of snowfields and reduction in their area provides the albedo and therefore increases absorption of short wave
fresh soil for vegetation generation throughout the summer radiation and the heating and melting of the snow pack.
season. Summer snowfields are also important environments Snow pollutants are released when snow and ice melts. Sci-
for the well-being of reindeer as they visit them to avoid ence Story 3.2 shows how Black Carbon pollution of the Sval-
insects and cool down. While decrease of the snow season bard snow pack has changed over time and to what extent it
might favor plant growth because of longer growing seasons, reduces albedo. Hydrocarbon spills in snow are transported by
the reduced supply of water following melt results in drought meltwater downstream where damage to aquatic ecosystems
in some drier areas during early summer and tree death. may occur. Alpine glaciers in some settings now represent a
secondary source for persistent organic pollutants (POPs) while
Understanding how the Arctic terrestrial carbon balance will melting rapidly. Heavy metal concentrations are high in snow
respond to rising temperatures is urgent as the high-lati- deposited close to industrial centers. Changes in snow extent
tudes contain nearly half of the global soil carbon (Section 4). and thickness will change the size of the reservoir for contami-
Because snow is such a good insulator and increases ground nants such as heavy metals and POPs.
temperatures, snow thickness and extent also influence per-
mafrost dynamics (Section 2), and ecosystems in permafrost Ice sheets and glaciers harbor the largest freshwater ecosys-
areas constitute a potential large greenhouse gas emission tem communities in the world! Despite their extreme habi-
source. On the other hand, it has recently been demonstrated tats in glacial ice and snow, several types of organisms thrive
that even a moderate increase in snow depth may allow Arctic here, such as algae, bacteria, fungi, protozoa, rotifers and even
ecosystems to become a source instead of a sink of carbon to larger invertebrates. It is therefore important to study such
the atmosphere (without altering the growing season length organisms because they are primary producers in many gla-
or composition of vegetation), and that it can increase plant cial settings (Science Story 3.3). Understanding how microbes 3
disease by fungal pathogens. in snow and ice respond to increased warming and increased
pollution loads should also be a prioritized task. An improved
Pollution through the air, or as local spills of for example understanding of how primary colonization of snow and ice
hydrocarbons (fossil fuel and oil) in snow and ice, is increas- occurs can also help us assess the potential of life on other icy
ing in the Arctic. This is partly because of increased transport planets. In addition, algae and other organisms in snow affect
and activity of extractive industries like mining. Atmospheric albedo as shown in Science Story 3.3.

SMB, Gt/year


50-years average



1960 1970 1980 1990 2000

Figure 3.2  More and more of the surface of the Greenland

Ice Sheet is melting in summer. The map shows the extensive
area of melt in 2012 (National Snow and Ice Data Center/Thomas
Mote, University of Georgia, USA).
Over time, the surface mass balance (SMB) of the glacier has
declined substantially with a loss of gigatonnes (GT) volume
(AMAP 2011).


Figure 3.4  The glacier to the left is in balance with climate, snow income (accumulation) balances snow and ice output (ablation)
which is indicated by the relatively large accumulation area (ca. 1/3) and a relatively high surface profile. The glacier on the right
is losing mass as the accumulation is not high enough to compensate for the high ablation. The glacier is therefore retreating
exposing new land in the fore-field which is covered by boulders, smaller rocks and finer particles transported either by the ice
or by meltwater. Moraine ridges in front (terminal) and on the side (lateral) of the glacier show historical larger extents
(Drawn by Arview, Tomsk).

Figure 3.3  Measuring snow depth (accumulation) and drilling

ablation stakes (on which summer melt is monitored) on Mårma
glacier in northern Sweden (Gunhild Rosqvist).

Figure 3.5  Reindeer being herded to their winter

pastures in northern Sweden (Niila Inga).

The Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets make up the vast
majority of the Earth’s cryosphere. If these ice sheets melt Cumulative area-averaged mass balance,
thousand kg/m2
entirely, sea level would on average rise more than 70 metres. 5
The observed rise in sea level over the last century of 1-2 mm/ Kozelsky
year, has been explained by an increased melting of mountain
glaciers and the margin of the Greenland Ice Sheet (Figure
3.2), and by a thermal expansion of the oceans (IPCC 2013).
Midre Lovénbreen
It is not yet possible to judge whether melting of the Antarc- –5

tic ice sheet is contributing to the observed changes in sea White

level (IPCC 2013). Dramatic thinning rates have been observed –10
at low elevations on the Greenland Ice Sheet and they result Storglaciären
from ice flow changes and surface melting. Glacier monitoring
(shown in northern Sweden in Figure 3.3) in Southeast Green-
land (Science Story 3.4) documented record mass loss for the Gulkana

Mittivakkat glacier in 2011. The processes involved are sum- –20

1940 1960 1980 2000 2020
marised graphically in Figure 3.4.

The sensitivity of smaller glaciers and ice caps to climate

change is determined by their response time (i.e. response
to changing climate), which in turn is determined by their
volume, temperature regime, and topographic and climatic
settings. Science Story 3.5 illustrates how these characteris-
tics were measured for glaciers in the Yukon and Alaska. Most
alpine glaciers in the Arctic have response times of a few dec- 3
ades. Hence, the effect of the ongoing warming over the past
decades is now becoming striking. Predictions of how gla-
ciers respond to climate change requires knowledge of their
ice flow properties. Glacier flow is influenced by internal ice
properties (such as temperature) and the composition of the
material at the bottom of the ice, where ice, water, bedrock or
sediments meet. Such glacier-bed properties can be studied
with seismic methods. Science Story 3.6 shows how ground-
penetrating radar can be used to determine if liquid water
is present in an otherwise frozen ice mass. This is important
because the presence of water determines how fast the gla-
cier moves and responds to climate change.

The response of alpine glaciers to climate variations on sea-

sonal-to-annual time scales is monitored through glacier mass
balance measurements (Figure 3.3). The amount of snow fall-
ing during the winter comprises the winter balance (accumu-
Figure 3.6  Massbalance (cumulative area-averaged) for six
lation) and the amount of snow and ice that melts (ablation)
Arctic glaciers: White Glacier (dark blue; Axel Heiberg Island,
during the melt-season, constitutes the summer balance (Fig-
Canada), Gulkana Glacier (red; Alaska, USA), Storglaciären
ure 3.4). If the net balance is positive, the glacier gains mass. (green; Sweden), Midre Lovénbreen (purple; Svalbard),
Even if some Arctic glaciers still can attain a positive net bal- Satujökull (light blue; Höfsjökull, Iceland), and Kozelsky
ance during individual years, most Arctic glaciers have gener- (yellow; Kamchatka, Russia). All records show net thinning
ally lost mass during the last 50 years, and since 1990 this loss over the period of record and more rapid thinning since ca.
has increased (Figure 3.6 and 3.7). 1990 (Stephan Bernberg. Graphics redrawn from M. Sharp, AMAP 2011).




Figure 3.7  A more than 100 year change (from 1990 (a) to 2013 (b) in the extent of Storglaciären, Tarfala, northern Sweden, is
clearly marked by moraine ridges (Fredrik Enquist 1910 (a), Per Holmlund 2013 (b)).

Increased melt of glaciers (as well as a shorter snow cover 1.5), and these floods can potentially destroy downstream set-
period and changes in the snow water content) affects water tlements and infrastructures causing casualties.
supplies in some regions. This is because snow stored on gla-
ciers in the winter melts successively in the spring and sum- Specific landforms located beyond the presently glaciated
mer, together with glacier ice, contributing with meltwater area, such as moraine ridges and trim-lines, indicate that gla-
to rivers during the vegetation season. In other areas glacier ciers were formerly more extensive. Often the most prominent
meltwater is temporarily stored in moraine-dammed lakes. moraines are those that were deposited up to a few hundred
The stability of such dams can degrade, especially if they are years ago when climate in the Arctic was colder (the so-called
ice-cored (contain ice in their centers) and the ice core melts. If Little Ice Age; 17th -19th centuries). Mineral particles eroded by
these dams break suddenly, meltwater is released catastrophi- the glaciers as they retreated from such moraines became
cally through glacial lake outburst floods (GLOF) (Science Story deposited and form “minerogenic” layers in downstream lakes.

Key messages and needs for further research
Research projects, such as those at INTERACT research stations, benefit

Such layers also indicate time periods from the availability of monitoring data that provide a long-term context
when climate was favorable for glacier for recent changes. Crucial information which has been lacking concerns
growth. This type of landform and sedi- details of snow conditions beyond simply depth, duration and water
ment evidence can be used to assess content. Hence, there is a strong requirement for long-term, high‐preci-
the sensitivity of a particular glacier to sion and standardized observations of changing snow conditions such as
climate change if independent tem- grain size and development, ice layer formation etc. Ice conditions in the
perature and precipitation reconstruc- Arctic also require careful monitoring. Of special importance will be (a)
tions are available for the same area. the influence of ice melting on sea level rise that has many uncertainties
Science Story 3.7 describes how various
yet could affect many millions of people in low lying countries, (b) feed-
methods can be used to see how the
back mechanisms that amplify climate warming, and (c) direct impacts on
changes in mass balance of an ice field
are reflected in changes in the position
societies and ecosystems of the Arctic.
of the ice margin and associated depo-
sition of materials carried by glaciers.

EFFECTS ON INDIGENOUS Further information and references

CULTURES Gunhild Rosqvist
The effects that changes in snow and Department of Physical Geography, Stockholm University
ice have on Arctic ecosystems require
indigenous cultures to change the tra-
ditional land use (Figure 3.5). For cul- AMAP 2011. Snow, Water, Ice and Permafrost in the Arctic (SWIPA): Climate change and the
tures that are strongly reliant on their Cryosphere. Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP), Oslo, Norway, 538
natural environment, climate and eco- pp.
logical change will have a significant Callaghan, T.V., Johansson, M. and Brown, R.D. 2011. Changing snow cover and its impacts.
impact. For example, changes in snow Pp. 4-1 to 4-58. In: Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme 2011. Snow, Water, Ice 3
conditions challenge reindeer herding, and Permafrost in the Arctic (SWIPA): Climate Change and the Cryosphere. Arctic Moni-
while activities by extractive industries toring and Assessment Programme, Oslo, Norway, xii + 538 pp.
and associated infrastructure develop- Callaghan, T.V., Johansson, M. and Brown, R.D. 2011. Multiple effects of changes in Arctic
ments are fragmenting the land tradi- snow cover. AMBIO 40:32–45.
Callaghan, T.V. and Johansson, M. 2015. Snow, ice and the biosphere. In: W. Haeberli and C
tionally used for grazing, thereby fur-
Whiteman (eds). Snow and ice-related hazards, risks and disasters. Elsevier. pp: 139-165.
ther stressing the traditional commu-
IPCC 2013. Working Group I Contribution to AR5. Climate change 2013: The Physical Science
nities and causing increased pollution. Basis.
To identify best practices and facilitate Roberts, A., Cassano, J. and Döscher, R. 2010. A Science Plan for Regional Arctic System Mod-
adaptation, scientific and traditional eling, IARC 10-0001, University of Alaska Fairbanks.
knowledge on for example how ani- Seibert, J., Jenicek, M., Huss, M. and Ewen, T. 2015. Snow and Ice in the Hydrosphere. In: W.
mal behavior depends on weather and Haeberli and C. Whiteman (eds). Snow and ice-related hazards, risks and disasters. Else-
snow conditions need to be collected, vier. pp: 99-137.
shared, and combined. Sharp, M. 2011 (ed). Mountain glaciers and ice caps (7). In Snow, Water, Ice and Permafrost
in the Arctic (SWIPA): Climate change and the Cryosphere. Arctic Monitoring and Assess-
ment Programme (AMAP), Oslo, Norway.
Tedesco, M., Box, J.E. and Cappelen, J.X. 2015. Greenland Ice Sheet. NOAA Arctic Report


How snow insulates

permafrost soils
Martin Proksch & Martin Schneebeli

With the advance of climate change, the permafrost (per-

manently frozen) soils in large regions of the world are at risk
of thawing. This could release immense amounts of green-
house gases which are currently stored in the permafrost,
and thus accelerate climate change. Permafrost is, however,
covered by snow for around half of the year, and snow is a
very good insulator. The effect of the snow cover on perma- Infrared photography of a snow profile: the lower 3/4 of the
frost was the main subject of this expedition. snowpack consists of large depth hoar crystals, which are
efficient insulators (Martin Proksch).


Our aim was to understand the the complex and largely
unknown microstructure of the snow covering permafrost soil. WHAT DID WE FIND?
The surface topography of the polygonal tundra in Samoylov
WHAT DID WE DO? is very hummocky (i.e. there were many small mounds about
3 We collected snow samples in the Samoylov area and brought 30 cm high). This results in rapid changes in snow depth and
• them back to Switzerland for further analysis in our laboratory. its thermal properties at the scale of a few metres. Typical for
1 To preserve the very fragile snow samples, we replaced the air this snowpack, we found large amounts of cup-shaped depth
in the pores with a liquid freezing slightly below zero degrees. hoar crystals, which were extraordinary large with sizes up to
These solid deep-frozen samples could now be transported the 2 cm at the end of the winter. These depth hoar crystals form
long way from northern Siberia to Switzerland. Back in the cold because of large temperature gradients within the snowpack.
laboratory, we scanned the samples using computed tomog- Thanks to our special sampling techniques we could, for the
raphy (similar to X-ray tomography in medicine) to reconstruct first time, preserve and measure the intact snow structure
the 3D microstructure of the snow. We could then calculate the formed by these depth-hoar crystals.
thermal properties of the snow from these images.
WHERE DID WE WORK? Depth hoar is known to have a low thermal conductivity
We worked in the area around the Research Station Samoylov which means that the snow cover on Samoylov is an effective
Island (• 38), northern Siberia, Russia. The Samoylov Research insulator which prevents the very low temperatures during
Station is located on a small island in the Lena Delta close to the Siberian winter from penetrating deeply into the ground.
the Laptev Sea and has a long tradition in permafrost moni- The permafrost is preserved because of the low temperatures
toring. We joined a research team from the German Alfred during winter, in order not to thaw in summer. Therefore it
Wegener Institute, which has more permanent activities at the is important to determine the exact thermal conductivity of
Research Station Samoylov Island. depth hoar.

The new research station at Samoylov Island, Siberia Journey to Samoylov Island on the frozen Lena River
(Michael Grigoriev). (Martin Proksch).

Documenting a snow profile

(Thomas Opel).



THE ADVENTURE Further information

Siberia is always an adventure! Reaching the Research Station Martin Proksch & Martin Schneebeli
Samoylov Island requires a trip through northern Siberia by WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF
plane, helicopter and tracked vehicle driving on the frozen Davos, Switzerland
Lena River. Staying at this kind of remote station and seeing Contact:;
the landscape and how the snow cover evolved was an experi-
ence of its own.

Taking first measurements on the way to Samoylov Island (Martin Proksch).

Black Carbon (BC or soot) particles are small particles emit-
Black Carbon and its

ted from incomplete combustion of fossil fuel and biomass.

Due to their black color the particles are strong absorbers
radiative impact in a of solar light. Most of the global BC particles are emitted at
lower latitudes, but a fraction can be transported to the Arc-
Svalbard snowpack tic under favorable meteorological conditions, particularly
during winter and spring time resulting in the phenomenon
Christina A. Pedersen, Jean-Charles Gallet, of Arctic Haze. The BC particles’ lifetime in the atmosphere
Sebastian Gerland, Elisabeth Isaksson, is short (a week on average), and the particles are depos-
Johan Ström & Terje K. Berntsen ited on the ground either through wet deposition (with pre-
cipitation) or dry deposition (without precipitation). If the
ground is snow covered, these dark particles will increase
the amount of absorbed energy and therefore decrease the
amount of reflected energy by the snow surface, also defined
as the snow albedo.



Snow sampling on
Svalbard. Clean outer
Holtedahlfonna glacier outside Ny-Ålesund. The photo shows clothing is essential
a spectral albedo instrument (Trios optical sensors) that for studies of snow
measures the reflection at different wavelengths of light. contamination (Jean-
In the foreground we see plastic bags of snow samples Charles Gallet).
(Christina A. Pedersen).


Even if we know that Black Carbon (BC) particles are very
strong absorbers of solar light, there are several processes
about how the BC particles interact with the snow particles
in the atmosphere and with the snow on the ground that are
unknown. The Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI) started working
on issues related to BC almost a decade ago, concentrating
on issues when the BC particles are deposited and incorpo-
rated in the snowpack. When snow is accumulating over time
on glaciers, snow becomes ice and we can therefore retrieve
past BC concentrations in snow using ice cores collected from


We have been collecting snow samples that were melted, fil- Filters for the Thermo/Optical Carbon Aerosol Analyzer
tered and analyzed for BC with a Thermo/Optical Carbon Aero- (filters are cut in two). These are samples taken in 2010 from
sol Analyzer. From some locations we have weekly/biweekly Changbai, Northeast China. You can clearly see the dark
time series of BC in the top 5 cm of the snow for several years. half circle where the meltwater including tiny black carbon
Snow albedo is very dependent on the snow physical prop- particles has darkened the filter (Christina A. Pedersen).

erties and the BC content together with the incoming light We noted that the BC concentration started to increase after

conditions. So in addition to measuring snow albedo, we have 1850 and peaked around 1910, similar to ice core records from
been measuring snow parameters like snow grain size, snow Greenland. More surprisingly, and in contrast to atmospheric
depth, snow density, as well as the amount of clouds and measurements in the Arctic and ice cores from Greenland,
solar zenith angle. This allows us to separate the effect that BC the concentration again increased rapidly between 1970 and
particles have on the absorption from the natural variability 2004. Regardless of the cause, the results have implications for
caused by changing snow and light conditions. We have also the radiative energy at the site.
analyzed a 125 m deep ice core for BC, providing BC concen-
trations and depositions for the past 300 years. WHY ARE THE RESULTS IMPORTANT?
The energy balance of every snowpack is mainly driven by
In addition to field measurements, we have used atmospheric the snow albedo. Because the amount of BC in the snow
transport models to simulate the deposition of BC over snow affects the albedo significantly it is crucial to understand the
surfaces. Comparison between ground measurements and processes behind. BC in the snow causes a positive feedback
models has been done to investigate the BC particle’s trans- leading to enhanced light absorption, increased temperature
port pathways from the source region further south to the Arc- and increased melting. For comparison, a clean snowpack will
tic. The more specific radiative (how radiation is distributed) absorb between 1-5% of the incoming solar radiation in the
transfer models have taught us how the snow and BC physical visible regions (400-780 nm wavelength). This implies that a
properties combine together to affect the snow albedo. concentration of 200 ng of BC per gram of snow results in an
increase of almost a factor two in absorbed broadband energy.
We have been focussing our work on Svalbard (Sverdrup THE ADVENTURE
Research Station (• 1)). Our two timeseries on surface BC con- When working in the field on Svalbard we are normally a small
centrations are from Ny-Ålesund and Austre-Brøggerbreen. group of scientists and students. We use snow mobiles to get
The ice core was from the Holtedahlfonna glacier. In addition out from the Ny-Ålesund village to our study site, where we 3
we have point measurements from Scandinavia, Fram Strait, spend the days digging snow pits, collecting snow samples •
Greenland, North Alaska and Northeast China collected by and making albedo measurements. When back in Ny-Ålesund 2
national and international partners (NILU, NORUT, CICERO and in the afternoon, we melt and filter our snow samples, and
the University of Oslo, as well as the University of Washington, back-up data and notes from the day. We normally work long
the University of Helsinki, the Chinese Academy of Science days as the Sun is up 24 hours from April, and the weather is
and the Chinese Meteorological Administration). often beautiful with bright white snow (you cannot see the BC
particles with your bare eyes), and blue or partly clouded sky.
Svalbard has been chosen as our main outdoor laboratory We always have to carry a rifle when leaving the village of Ny-
because of its pristine environment far away from most local Ålesund as there may be Polar Bears lurking around.
pollution sources. The Alaskan and Chinese sites were chosen
to investigate long range transport of BC, and in Greenland
the focus was on using a drone to study the variability of snow Further information
albedo over a larger spatial scale. Christina A. Pedersen1, Jean-Charles Gallet1, Sebastian Gerland1,
Elisabeth Isaksson1, Johan Ström2 & Terje K. Berntsen3
Norwegian Polar Institute, Norway, 2Stockholm University,
­Sweden, 3University of Oslo, Norway
We found that the amount of BC in the snow in Svalbard was
on average 100 times lower than in Northeast China and Contact:
about 20-30 times lower than on mainland Norway. The con-
centrations were similar in Svalbard snow and in sea ice in Forsström, S., Isaksson, E., Skeie, R.B. and others 2013. Ele-
Fram strait and Alaska. Our measurements also confirmed that mental carbon measurements in European Arctic snow
packs. Journal of Geophysical Research 118:13 614-13627,
the amount of BC in the snow increased during snow melt-
ing because the particles remained at the surface and did not Pedersen, C.A., Gallet, J.C., Ström, J. and others 2015. In situ obser-
percolate very easily through the snowpack together with the vations of black carbon in snow and the corresponding spec-
melt water. We were able to investigate the effect BC particles tral surface albedo reduction. Journal of Geophysical Research:
in the snow had on reducing the snow albedo. The broadband Atmospheres 120:1476-1489.
Ruppel, M.M., Isaksson, E., Ström, J. and others 2014. Unexpected
(400-900 nm integrating albedo) surface albedo reduction
increase in elemental carbon values over the last 30 years
due to surface BC was found to be about 0.5% for 10 ng of observed in a Svalbard ice core. Atmospheric Chemistry and
BC per gram of snow, while the reduction was doubled for Physics 14:13197-13231, DOI:10.5194/acpd-14-13197-2014.
three times larger BC amounts. The effect of BC is enhanced Wang, Z.W., Gallet, J.C., Pedersen, C.A. and others 2014. Elemental
when snow is old because old snow is made of large snow Carbon in Snow at Changbai Mountain, Northeastern China:
Concentrations, Scavenging Ratios, and Dry Deposition
grains and the light penetrates deeper in an old snowpack.
Velocities. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics 14: 629-640,
Therefore, the contribution of BC particles buried deeper in DOI:10.5194/acp-14-629-2014.
the snowpack is then not negligible anymore when the snow
becomes older.

Adaptations and survival


Our knowledge about the structure and the relation-
of microorganisms ships between algae and other microorganisms that
colonize glaciers in the Arctic is extremely limited. This
on snow and ice is primarily because no studies have tried to describe
in detail the ecology of snow and ice surfaces. Our
Liane G. Benning aim with two linked INTERACT “CryoLife” projects was
to measure as many as possible physical, chemical
and biological characteristics of the microbes living in
Arctic glacial environments represent the very edge of the Earth’s such environments and to evaluate how geographi-
habitable zone. Glaciers are often assumed to be lifeless, yet they are cal and latitudinal effects may influence the distribu-
colonized by a plethora of algae, bacteria, fungi, and even inverte- tion and abundance of the microbial communities in
brates which do not just survive but thrive on snow and ice surfaces. these environments.
Among these microorganisms, snow and ice algae (microscopic,
single-celled plants) grow and reproduce dramatically (they bloom) Specifically, we aimed to assess how the fast chang-
during the summer melting season. These algal blooms transform ing and melt-related ecology of microbes in snow and
snow and ice surfaces into colourful environments. Algae produce ice habitats on glaciers affect albedo.
coloured pigments, for various reasons, including as protection
against cold or as screens againts the high, Arctic UV radiation. Snow WHAT DID WE DO?
algae are either green because of their production of chlorophyl or We hypothesised that snow and ice algae are the
various shades of red because of the carotenoid pigments they pro- primary colonizers on a glacier. We tested this both
duce. In contrast, ice algae can turn the surface of glaciers and ice in Southeast Greenland and Arctic Sweden and con-
3 sheets black due to special purple and black pigments. Such colours, ducted a detailed and multidisciplinary study on
• together with the dust and black carbon deposited through aeolian snow and ice communities. We analysed samples
3 (wind) processes (Science Story 3.2) can massively reduce albedo and with a combination of detailed microbiological, geo-
enhance melting. This is because snow and ice algae are important chemical and mineralogical tools and compared and
biological components on glacier surfaces and they regulate a rela- contrasted the resulting data sets between the two
tively large part of Earth’s global carbon cycle. They therefore have a different geographical settings and also with other
massive impact on the fast changing climate in the Arctic. sites in the European Arctic.

Green snow algae Red snow algae Brown ice algae

0.4 . 104 cells/ml 1.8 . 104 cells/ml 1.1 . 104 cells/ml
Albedo: 44 ± 4 % Albedo: 49 ± 8 % Albedo: 35 ± 10 %

How important is biology for albedo reduction? Green (left) and red Sampling tubes filled with reddish (top) and
(middle) snow and grey ice (right) photos with insets showing their greenish-reddish (bottom row) snow from
respective main algal inhabitants (Liane G. Benning, inset microscopic Mittivakkat glacier (CryoLife 2012) (Liane G.
images by Lutz. Cell abundance and albedo values at the bottom are from Lutz and Benning).
others 2014).

In 2012 we worked in Southeast Greenland on Mittivakkat Snow and ice algae dominate the net primary production
glacier to include observations from a maritime, sub-Arctic, but the algal species are variably distributed on snow and
low altitude site, i.e., the Sermilik Research Station (• 68) ice. When they grow the algae change their colour and
within a wider sampling regime. We collected our snow and this darkens the snow and ice surfaces. The albedo values
ice microbial samples during the fastest melting season measured in green and red snow or grey ice are approxi-
recorded for Greenland. In 2013 we evaluated the snow and mately 30-35 % lower than in clean white snow. Such drastic
ice environments on and around Storglaciären and Rabots changes will invariably lead to a positive feedback speeding
glaciär in Arctic Sweden (alpine, Arctic, high altitude), while up melting processes even further.
being hosted at the Tarfala Research Station (• 10). We
returned in 2014 to the Tarfala Research Station for another WHY ARE THE RESULTS IMPORTANT?
project and again sampled snow and ice on Storglaciären. We hypothesize that as the climate warms and summer
During our 2012 to 2014 summer field campaigns we also melt seasons become longer, it is likely that the effects seen
sampled snow and ice from other Arctic but maritime Sval- above will further be intensified and an even stronger posi-
bard and sub-Arctic Iceland glaciers and thus we now have tive feedback between increased melting and darkening
a comprehensive set of microbial habitat samples from of the Arctic glacial habitats will develop. Thus, the snow
about 21 glaciers from across the European Arctic. and ice algae will become more important contributors to
albedo variations, but these changes have still to be fully
measured so that they can be incorporated into global cli-
mate change models.

There were three particular parts of the adventure: being in 3
the Arctic, the greatest and most peaceful place on Earth, •
studying a problem of massive importance for our Earth’s 3
climate, and helping advance our understanding of how
our fast changing Arctic environment is affected by things
as small as microscopic snow and ice algae. And not to for-
get, much enjoying getting to know new people and envi-
ronments through INTERACT.

Sampling snow and ice on

Mittivakkat glacier during
CryoLife 2012 field work at
Sermilik Research Station in
Greenland (Liane G. Benning).

Further information
Liane G. Benning
School of Earth Sciences
University of Leeds, Leeds, LS2 9JT, UK


Benning, L.G., Anesio, A.M., Lutz, S. and Tranter, M. 2014. Biological

impact on Greenland’s albedo. Nature Geoscience 7:691, DOI:
Lutz, S., Anesio, A.M., Jorge Villar, S.E. and Benning, L.G. 2014. Vari-
ations in algal communities cause  darkening of a Greenland
glacier. FEMS Microbial Ecology 89:402-414, DOI:10.1111/1574-

Glacier monitoring in

Southeast Greenland
Sebastian H. Mernild & Edward Hanna

The warming in Greenland over the past 30 years has resulted

in increased mass loss both from the Greenland Ice Sheet and
from smaller alpine glaciers contributing to global sea-level
rise. Recent estimates of the mass loss and contribution to sea
level are based on data from the Greenland ice sheet. Out of
approximately 20,000 individual alpine glaciers in Greenland
comparable long-term estimates are only available from one
site – Mittivakkat glacier. Studying this allowed us to effec- The Mittivakkat glacier front
tively demonstrate the effect of climate change in the context was mapped by portable GPS
of long-running glacier records. (Edward Hanna).


The main aim of the GLAMOSEG-project is to get a better and From our field observations we documented annual record
3 more detailed understanding of glacier mass-balance condi- mass loss in 2011 for the Mittivakkat glacier in an archive
• tions in Southeast Greenland, on the Mittivakkat glacier, since dating back to 1995 (we attributed this mass loss primarily
4 glaciers are highly sensitive to changes in climate conditions. to record high mean summer (June–August) temperatures
in combination with lower than-average winter precipita-
Temperature records from coastal stations in Southeast Green- tion); also note that since 1931 the glacier has undergone
land suggest that recent Mittivakkat glacier mass losses are almost continuous retreat of around 1,300 metres (on average
not merely a local phenomenon, but indicate glacier changes approximately 16  m per year). During 1986–2011, the Mitti-
in the broader region for Southeast Greenland also. Observa- vakkat glacier declined by 18 % in its area, 15 % in mean ice
tions for the Mittivakkat glacier therefore provide unique doc- thickness, and by 30 % in volume. The shrinkage of Mittivak-
umentation of the recent general retreat of Southeast Green- kat follows the overall trend of other glaciers in the Ammas-
land’s local glaciers under ongoing climate warming. salik region, where glaciers on average shrank 27 % in area
during the same period. We used the long-term mass-balance
WHAT DID WE DO? record to estimate present-day glacier equilibrium conditions.
To assess the present conditions of the glacier we mapped the We showed that the glacier is significantly out of balance with
glacier front position using a portable GPS (Global Position- its present-day climate and is committed to additional losses
ing System). Results were then related to estimates of previ- of at least 70 % of its current area and 80 % of its volume over
ous frontal changes derived from aerial photos and satellite the next decades before the Mittivakkat glacier reaches equi-
images. Ice-thickness was measured using a portable ground- librium with the climate of the past decade.
penetrating radar (GPR); and net surface mass balance obser-
vations (accumulation and ablation) were conducted based WHY ARE THE RESULTS IMPORTANT?
on stakes drilled in the ice surface. Snow accumulation and Mass loss from glaciers is a key component of Earth’s chang-
snow/ice ablation were measured using cross-glacier stake ing sea-level and regulates water resources around the globe.
lines at separations of approximately 500 m. The stakes in Analyses based on direct and geodetic measurements suggest
each line were 200–250 m apart, and measurements were that glacier mass loss is currently rising global mean sea-level
obtained at a total of 45–50 stakes. by about 1mm yr−1, where glaciers in Greenland contributed
with 0.1 mm yr−1 and glaciers outside Greenland and Antarc-
WHERE DID WE WORK? tica with 0.76 mm yr−1. This is about one-third of the total rate
Our research was carried out at the Mittivakkat glacier located of sea-level rise inferred from satellite altimetry (surface height
on Ammassalik Island at the Sermilik Research Station (• 68) measurements), with ocean thermal expansion and ice-sheet
between the town Ammassalik (Tasiilaq) and Sermilik Fjord in mass loss accounting for most of the remainder. Since half of
Southeast Greenland. Mittivakkat is the only glacier in Green- the estimated global glacier surface area and two thirds of
land from where long-term mass-balance observations, glacier its volume are located in the circumpolar Arctic region, this
surface and volume estimates, and glacier-front fluctuations makes glacier observations and the understanding of glacier
are kept, allowing us to effectively interpret recent changes in surface mass-balance trends of northern latitudes, including
the context of long-running records. Greenland, essential.



Mittivakkat glacier front’s variability since 1931 estimated Researchers drill six
from aerial photos, satellite images, and portable GPS metre deep holes in
measurements (Source: Updated from Mernild and others 2011). the ice surface for
ablation (melt) stakes
to estimate the annual
glacier surface mass balance. Around twenty stakes are
annually drilled along and across the glacier following a
Going to East Greenland is always an enthralling experience,
spatially distributed network to estimate the glacier’s annual
whether it is the first or tenth visit. East Greenland is one of mass balance (Edward Hanna).
the last frontiers, where the beauty of Arctic nature is exposed.

Mittivakkat glacier, Southeast Greenland, Further information

looking toward ESE (Niels Tvis Knudsen). Sebastian Mernild1 & Edward Hanna2
Los Alamos National Laboratory, US (Now Center for Scientific
Studies, Chile)
Department of Geography, University of Sheffield, UK


Church, J.A., Clark, P.U., Cazenave, A. and others 2013. Sea Level
Change. In: Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis.
Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment
Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Stocker, T.F., Qin, D., Plattner, G.-K. and others (eds). Cambridge
University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York,
Mernild, S.H., Knudsen, N.T., Lipscomb, W.H. and others 2011.
Increasing mass loss from Greenland’s Mittivakkat Gletscher.
The Cryosphere 5:341-348, DOI:10.5194/tc-5-341-2011.
Mernild, S.H., Knudsen, N.T., Hoffman, M.J. and others 2013. Vol-
ume and Velocity changes at Mittivakkat Gletscher, Southeast
Greenland, 1994–2012. Journal of Glaciology 59(216):660-670,


Relationships between glacier

dynamics and climate
Gwenn Flowers
Kaskawulsh Glacier (Flavien Beaud).

Glaciers and ice sheets store over two-thirds of Earth’s fresh-

water and are presently contributing to rising sea levels.
Understanding the behavior of these ice masses, including
how they respond to a changing climate, is essential for our
ability to predict their future evolution, better understand
planetary albedo feedbacks (the Earth’s reflection of radia-
tion) and project future sea level rise.


3 The goal of the project was to understand the regional vari- small population of glaciers on the continental side of the St.
• ability of glacier response to climate, and assess the role of Elias Mountains, in the traditional territory of the Kluane First
5 glacier dynamics (flow) in determining this response. In par- Nation. The glaciers here, all subject to the same regional cli-
ticular, we set out to (1) measure regional climate variables mate, represent a range of thermal and dynamic regimes and
important for glacier mass changes (e.g. temperature, radia- are accessible from the Kluane Lake Research Station (• 49).
tion, precipitation), (2) monitor the glacier mass balance by
measuring mass gain (snow accumulation) and losses (abla- WHAT DID WE FIND?
tion), (3) characterize the dynamics of several targeted study Glacier mass changes measured in our study area were in
glaciers, and (4) model the interaction between climate, gla- broad agreement with independent estimates of glacier mass
cier mass change and dynamics. change in the wider region, with our study glaciers experienc-
ing net losses in all but one year. Despite this broad agree-
WHAT DID WE DO? ment, there were some significant and systematic differences
We installed 5 automatic weather stations in our 30 x 30 km in winter snow accumulation and summer melt between our
study region, and over the course of several years measured targeted glaciers, which were only 10 km apart. The contrast-
the total winter snowfall and total summer melt across two ing orientations and positions of these glaciers on opposite
study glaciers. This required the installation and maintenance sides of the mountain range crest play an important role here.
of a spatially representative network of ablation stakes on
each glacier that we measured each year, as well as the estab- Our investigation of glacier dynamics through observa-
lishment of a seasonal stream gauge. Global Positioning Sys- tion and modelling yielded some surprising results. One of
tem (GPS) measurements of markers drilled into the ice ena- the study glaciers, known to have “surged” in the past, i.e.
bled us to calculate glacier flow speeds, while ice-penetrating advanced rapidly down the valley, is now undergoing a “slow
radar was used to measure glacier depth and map out colder surge”. This phenomenon is characterized by an unsustainably
and warmer zones within the ice. Computer models of varying high flow rate, but one that falls short of what has tradition-
complexity were developed in our laboratory to (a) simulate ally been identified as a surge. Glaciers in this state have suf-
glacier mass changes in response to measured climate vari- fered a mass deficit in the period leading up to the surge, and
ables, (b) explain the observed glacier flow regimes and (c) may stop surging altogether if they continue to lose mass.
predict future changes in glacier thickness, extent, speed and Climate’s fingerprints can now be detected in the changing
temperature. dynamics of glaciers.

WHERE DID WE WORK? By imaging the ice interior with radar and making direct
The St. Elias Mountains of Yukon and Alaska are known for measurements of glacier temperature with digital borehole
their extreme topography, rising from sea level along the Gulf sensors, we found that many of the small glaciers on the con-
of Alaska up to Mt. Logan (5,959 m), the highest point in Can- tinental side of the St. Elias Mountains are “polythermal”. These
ada. This area also has an abundance of fast-flowing glaciers, glaciers have a zone of temperate ice (close to melting point)
making it an ideal setting in which to explore the relation- partially overlain by a thick shell of colder ice. Our models sug-
ship between climate and glacier dynamics. We worked on a gest that many of these glaciers will get colder as they retreat

and disappear. When meltwater refreezes in a cold snowpack

it releases a large amount of heat, which warms the snow that
will eventually form glacier ice. The decline of a porous snow-
cover on these glaciers inhibits the retention of meltwater and
the heat it provides, ultimately producing colder glacier ice.
One of our study glaciers is expected to cool significantly in
the future, while the other is not, due to differences in their
geometries and flow regimes. This cooling may impact the
glacier’s ongoing response to climate, as colder ice flows more
slowly down valley than temperate ice. The same physical pro-
cesses may produce the opposite effect in other climate set-
tings, including some parts of the Greenland Ice Sheet, where
increased meltwater entrapment may warm the ice and pro-
duce faster ice flow from the continental interior to the ocean.


The results of this study tell us that neighboring glaciers can
respond differently to climate, and that the details of their
geometries, temperatures and flow regimes can combine to Projected changes in geometry and temperature for two
produce unexpected behavior. As this new knowledge makes different glaciers in the Donjek Range from present day (t=0,
its way into the increasingly sophisticated models used by the middle row) to 50 years into the future (bottom row). Images
scientific community, we will be better able to predict regional (top row) show the locations of the modeled profiles on
to global glacier change and its impact on planetary albedo, aerial photographs of the study glaciers (left: surging glacier
freshwater resources and sea-level.
in 1951; right: glacier with no known surge history, 1977).
Note the near-complete disappearance of temperate ice
(darker blue) in the glacier on the right after 50 years (Figures

THE ADVENTURE from Wilson and others 2013).
Working on and around glaciers is fun, but can be dangerous.
We do much of our work roped together as a team on skis
or snowshoes, navigating crevasses (large cracks in the gla-
cier surface often hidden under snow) with our instruments.
A memorable survey was cut short when one of the gradu-
ate students fell through a snow bridge and into a crevasse.
After 45 minutes of setting up pulley systems and hauling, we
finally retrieved a wet and cold but happy student!

Snow pit (Laurent Mingo).

Further information
Gwenn Flowers
Associate Professor & Canada Research Chair in Glaciology
Department of Earth Sciences, Simon Fraser University
8888 University Dr., Burnaby, BC V5A 1S6, Canada


Flowers, G.E., Copland, L. and Schoof, C.G. 2014. Contemporary

glacier processes and global change. Arctic, KLRS 50th Anniver-
sary Issue:1-20,
Flowers, G.E., Roux, N., Pimentel, S. and Schoof, C.G. 2011. Present
dynamics and future prognosis of a slowly surging glacier. The
Cryosphere 5:299-313, DOI:10.5194/tc-5-299-2011.
Wilson, N.J., Flowers, G.E. and Mingo, L. 2013. Comparison of
thermal structure and evolution between neighboring subarc-
tic glaciers. Journal of Geophysical Research – Earth Surface
118:1443-1459, DOI:10.1002/jgrf.20096.

Examining the effect of changes in plateau icefield

mass balance on ice margin retreat patterns and

depositional processes
Clare M. Boston, Benedict T.I. Reinardy & Danni Pearce
The view from the 1,863 m
nunatak (a ice-free peak in
an otherwise ice-covered
mountain or ice sheet),
including ice flowing into
Small ice masses are important for assessing the impacts
Midtdalsbreen in the right
of changes in climate due to their shorter response times to of the photograph
these changes compared to large ice sheets. In particular, (Clare Boston).
plateau icefields are acutely sensitive to climatic changes
due to the low slope angle of the plateau, meaning that a
small rise in temperature could result in a large increase in
the size of the ablation (melt) area, leading to rapid retreat.


3 The aim of the project was to examine how changes in the Good access from the Finse Alpine Research Centre (• 7) to
• mass balance of a sensitive icefield located in southern Nor- Hardangerjökulen, the sixth largest icefield in Norway, pro-
6 way, Hardangerjökulen, are reflected in changes in the posi- vided an opportunity to assess patterns of recession at Midt-
tion of the ice margin at three of its outlet glaciers; Midtdals- dalsbreen, Blåisen and Bukkeskinnsbreen, both since their
breen, Blåisen and Bukkeskinnsbreen. We also studied how ­Little Ice Age (LIA) maximum extents (around AD 1750) and at
such changes influence the processes of sediment deposition present. This is one of the most vulnerable icefields in Norway,
at the ice margin that contribute to the formation of glacial and is predicted to have completely disappeared by 2100.
landforms such as moraines. The results from this study will
help us to further understand the response of this icefield to a
warming climate, and to predict its future stability.

Hardangerjökulen, (a)
Source: Adapted from Turkart
Finse 1:50 000, Ugland
IT Group, 2010 (Glacier
outline from Landsat 8 2013,
downloaded from USGS Earth


The lichen Rhizocarpon geographicum (a).

Cleaning a section before recording it (b)
(Clare Boston).

Three key methods were used to assess retreat patterns and These findings indicate variations in ice-marginal processes,
ice-marginal processes in August 2013: both across the present glacier foreland and since the LIA,
at the three outlet glaciers studied, most likely controlled by
„„ Mapping of the glacial geomorphology, i.e. the land- changes in topography, sediment supply and the thermal
forms left by the glaciers, was carried out to a) record structure of the glacier. Further analysis of these results will
key positions of the margin of each outlet glacier since help improve our understanding of the different responses of
the LIA, and b) assess differences in the retreat patterns these outlet glaciers to changes in mass balance of Hardan-
between the three glaciers. gerjökulen.
„„ Lichenometry (dating based on lichen size) was used to
provide approximate ages of key former glacier posi- WHY ARE THE RESULTS IMPORTANT?
tions, marked by moraines, to allow an assessment of This work provides an important basis for future work on the
differences in the timing of retreat of the three outlet response of small ice masses to changes in climate. Small ice
glaciers. This method involved measuring the diameter masses are particularly sensitive to climate change and it is
of the largest lichen growing on boulders on a particu- important to record processes occurring at the ice margin to
lar moraine, and using a regional lichen growth rate help further understand how these glaciers are responding to
to estimate when the lichen became established, and such climatic changes. This will help us to more confidently
thus approximately when the glacier deposited the predict the future stability of these ice masses and their poten-
moraine. tial contribution to sea-level rise over the next century. We are
„„ Sedimentological analysis of ice-marginal landforms, grateful for the financial and logistical support of INTERACT
such as moraines (i.e. recording structures within a Transnational access scheme.
sediment section, assessing the nature of the sediment 3
(sorted, i.e. clay, silt, sand, or unsorted, i.e. a mixture THE ADVENTURE •
of grain sizes) and measuring the size and roundness When undertaking fieldwork in a remote, mountainous envi- 6
of stones within the section), allowed us to assess the ronment, the weather is an important factor, and can have a
processes involved in their formation. These processes large influence on plans for the day. During our three weeks at
can tell us about the glacier dynamics and sediment Finse, we experienced a wide variety of weather, from torren-
transport pathways, i.e. where the debris that forms the tial rain, to freezing winds, and days of beautiful sunshine. This
moraines has come from (supraglacial; on the glacier meant fieldwork was never dull, even if it did mean some days
surface, i.e. the debris has fallen off the valley sides; or were spent identifying good moraines to shelter behind and
subglacial; at the glacier bed, i.e. the debris has been the quickest route to the nearest hytta (cabin)! A rare sunny
plucked from the bedrock underneath the glacier and and virtually cloudless day gave us the opportunity to hike to
then eroded during transport). the highest point of the icefield and stand on a nunatak (bed-
rock sticking out of the ice) at an altitude of 1,863 m. From
WHAT DID WE FIND? this vantage point we could see ice in all directions, including
Our landform (geomorphological) mapping demonstrates ice flow into Midtdalsbreen and Blåisen, making all those bad
that a variety of glacial landforms were produced by the three weather days seem irrelevant.
glaciers during retreat, in part due to differences in the topog-
raphy over which they were flowing. Midtdalsbreen is particu-
larly interesting since subglacial and ice-marginal processes
vary across the margin, also producing different landforms,
which we see from differences in the nature of the sediments Further information
that they are made up of. Using sedimentological analysis Clare Boston1, Benedict Reinardy2 & Danni Pearce3
we were able to record sediment transport processes at the University of Exeter, UK (Now at University of Portsmouth, UK)

southeastern part of the margin, from delivery of sediment to Instituto Andaluz de Ciencias de la Tierra (CSIC), Spain (Now

University of Bergen, Norway)

the glacier surface, to transport along the glacier surface by University of Worcester, UK (Now University of Aberdeen, UK)

meltwater streams, followed by deposition of this sediment

on the glacier surface near the margin. As the ice melts, this Contact:
leads to concentration of debris at the glacier surface forming
a thick blanket of sediment that insulates the ice and slows Giesen, R.H. and Oerlemans, J. 2010. Response of the ice cap Har-
dangerjökulen in southern Norway to the 20th and 21st century
the rate of melting, eventually leading to a landscape contain- climates. The Cryosphere 4:191-213.
ing buried ice beneath a series of mounds and ridges. Our Nesje, A., Bakke, J., Dahl, S.O. and others 2008. Norwegian moun-
research also suggests that at its northwestern margin, the tain glaciers in the past, present and future. Global and Plan-
glacier is no longer producing annual moraines, compared etary Change 60:10-27.
to two years earlier, when such processes were recorded (Rei­ Reinardy, B.T.I., Leighton, I. and Marx, P.J. 2013. Glacier thermal
regime linked to processes of annual moraine formation at
nardy and others 2013), indicating a recent change in pro- Midtdalsbreen, southern Norway. Boreas 42:896-911.
cesses relating to moraine formation here.

Ground penetrating radar

investigation of a Norwegian glacier’s

marginal ice conditions
Adam D. Booth & Benedict T.I. Reinardy

The flow of glaciers often leaves diagnostic signatures in the landscape. By map-
ping the location of these features – which include mounds of debris termed
moraine, scars in the valley-side termed trimlines, and mud-filled hollows termed
flutes – and analysis of their sediment characteristics, we can infer the glacia-
tion history of a particular site and can interpret how glaciers have moved. Midt-
dalsbreen, which is located in southern Norway, is an interesting case since the
sediments immediately at the glacier front appear to have been deposited under
frozen marginal conditions. This suggests that the edges of Midtdalsbreen have
remained frozen to the bed despite climatic warming during the last 50 years, and
potentially from the Little Ice Age some 200 years ago. Typically, sediments depos-
ited under frozen conditions are rapidly eroded as the underlying ice melts, so
Midtdalsbreen offers a chance to study them before they disappear. Although evi-
dence for frozen marginal conditions is compelling at this site, direct observations
View looking north down
3 of them are required in order to prove how the sediments are being deposited. This
Midtdalsbreen from the
• can be studied with Ground Penetrading Radar (GPR). GPR is like an x-ray for the Hardangerjökulen ice-cap.
7 subsurface, allowing structures beneath the surface of the glacier to be mapped The Finsevatnet lake can
out. Inferences from Midtdalsbreen may have wider implications for the interpre- be seen in the distance
tation of larger glacier retreats in the historic record, as local observations may with the settlement of
serve as analogues for ice conditions at the end of major deglaciation periods. Finse located on the far
shore (Benedict Reinardy).

AIMS OF THE PROJECT which may be present. GPR is ideal for mapping water, as
In the “GIMMIC” project, we conducted GPR measurements water is strongly reflective to the radio-wave pulse. By moving
over Midtdalsbreen (a land-terminating outlet of the Hardan- the GPR along many traverses across the glacier, we gradually
gerjökulen ice-cap, with a detailed focus on the edges of the built up a map of where the glacier bed appears frozen, and
glacier within 100 m of its terminus. where it appears to have liquid-water.

We were looking specifically for evidence of liquid-water inclu- WHERE DID WE WORK?
sions within the otherwise frozen ice. Where the ice is free from We were based at the Finse Alpine Research Centre (• 7), Nor-
such inclusions, the GPR data appear transparent – but where way, close to Midtdalsbreen.
liquid-water is present, the data take on a “fuzzy” character. If
the theory of frozen marginal conditions is correct, we expect WHAT DID WE FIND?
to be able to map out a corridor of transparent GPR responses Over 43 km of GPR data were acquired during the 9-day stay,
towards the glacier front. If we instead see the signature of facilitating some very detailed imaging of Midtdalsbreen’s
liquid-water all the way to the front, the assumption of frozen marginal ice. The figure on the next page focuses on our
basal conditions cannot be correct. traverses across the glacier margin; there are even more lines
elsewhere on the glacier! Most often, the antennas of the GPR
WHAT DID WE DO? system (a Mala Geosciences RTA, radiating 50 MHz energy)
Support from the INTERACT Transnational access scheme ena- were towed behind the user although, for our longest lines,
bled a new international collaboration to be initiated, between the system was attached to a snowmobile. Processing and
Dr. Booth from Imperial College London and Dr. Reinardy from interpretation of the GPR data is now underway. Preliminary
Bergen University. During a nine-day stay at Norway’s Finse results appear to be supportive of our hypothesis: there is
Alpine Research Station, we conducted a series of GPR sur- strong evidence that the margins of Midtdalsbreen are frozen
veys on Midtdalsbreen. GPR systems use pulses of radio-wave at their bed given the transparency of GPR responses at these
energy to map the structure of a target subsurface. Usually, positions. In general, it appears that the ice is frozen where its
GPRs have two antennas: a transmitting antenna sends a burst depth is less than 10 m, implying that frozen conditions exist
of energy into the ground, which is then recorded at a receiv- in a corridor of up to 50 m from the glacier margin.
ing antenna after being reflected from subsurface structures

Example GPR data, acquired Ca. 150 m
close to the Midtdalsbreen
margin. The first 50 m of the
profile show “fuzzy” GPR
responses which are diagnostic

Ca. 32 m
of liquid water; however,
transparent ice is observed
elsewhere and the glacier is
interpreted as being completely
frozen at these points.

Metres east
900 1000 1100 1200 1300 1400



Metres north


Location of GPR surveys around 7
Midtdalsbreen glacier; the
different colours correspond to
data acquired on different days
of the field campaign.

WHY ARE THE RESULTS IMPORTANT? and it is also an exercise in “planning ahead” – we are always
The GIMMIC project will undoubtedly provide interesting and aware of the risk posed by changeable weather conditions or
important insights into the conditions of both Midtdalsbreen of the appearance of crevasses in the ice. Revisiting the same
and, potentially, glaciers beyond this site. GPR surveys of site gives you a feel for how dynamic an environment a glacier
high Arctic glaciers in places such as Svalbard have indicated really is. With the melt of the snowpack in spring, meltwater
that in some situations most of the glacier is frozen to its bed channels begin to show through until the glacier surface is
and thus interpreting how far these glaciers advanced and bare ice.
retreated in the past is challenging because little evidence
remains in the landscape. This study suggests that similar While some areas of the Arctic are extremely remote, Finse
challenges may exist for temperate glaciers that have small is a metropolis by comparison! Our daily snowmobile com-
areas of ice at the glacier margin that are frozen to the bed. mute to Midtdalsbreen and the work we then performed was
Our project is therefore important because it indicates that, always under the watchful eye of skiers enjoying the best of
even in temperate glacial environments, restricted or local- the Norwegian spring. However, when the Sun is setting and
ised areas of the glacier that are frozen to the bed can have the skiers have gone home, you are quickly reminded of how
a significant impact on the type of landscape features left by beautifully bleak a glaciated landscape is.
the glacier and these conditions may actually be more wide-
spread within both modern and ancient glacial environments
than previously thought. Consequently, the project should Further information
provide a springboard for further research collaboration. The Adam Booth
importance of both the financial and logistical support of the Department of Earth Science and Engineering, Imperial College
INTERACT Transnational access scheme cannot therefore be London, UK (Now at School of Earth and Environment, University
of Leeds, UK)
understated, and we are grateful for the opportunity it pro-
vided to work at Finse station. Benedict Reinardy
Department of Earth Science, University of Bergen, Norway
Glacier fieldwork is more than just a scientific challenge; there
is the physical challenge of hauling equipment through snow,

4 Land-atmosphere

Philip A. Wookey & Torben R. Christensen

Biogeochemistry concerns the biological processes and reac-

tions which are involved in the exchange and recycling of key
chemical elements and materials, such as aerosols, between
and among living things and their abiotic (non-biological)
environment. Closely linked to this is biogeophysics, but here
the emphasis is on physical interactions between organisms
and the abiotic environment; good examples would be how
different vegetation types reflect contrasting amounts of
incoming solar energy, cause contrasting soil temperatures
and affect snow drifting patterns in the landscape.

Life on Earth (including that of Humankind) is entirely

dependent upon element recycling within the Earth System,
but this is driven by energy flows largely originating from the
Sun; unlike matter, energy cannot be recycled. At high north-
ern latitudes (including the boreal forests and Arctic tundra)
solar energy receipts vary dramatically through the seasons,
and this results in correspondingly dramatic responses in the
rates of key biological processes, such as photosynthesis and
decomposition, due to changes in the availability of thermal
energy (which is strongly linked with the rate(s) of chemical
reactions) and useful radiant (light) energy which drives pho-
tosynthesis. Imbalances between carbon captured by plants
and released by soils throughout the dark and light seasons
leads to seasonal variability in atmo­spheric concentrations of 4
carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4). In Figure 4.1, “valleys”
represent the dominance of CO2 uptake in summer whereas
“peaks” occur in the dark periods of the year when photosyn-
thesis ceases and release of carbon (also as CO2) from decom-
position dominates. Imbalances also occur on much longer
timescales and these have the potential to influence the
Earth’s climate system through “feedbacks”. In essence, what
this means is that a response in the Earth System to changes
(for example, in climate) can accelerate (a “positive feedback”)
or damp-down (a “negative feedback”) the rate of change; in
this context, if warming in the Arctic accelerates soil microbial
activity (which releases CO2 and, in waterlogged conditions,
CH4, to the atmosphere) more than photosynthesis (which
removes CO2 from the atmosphere) then the net result would
be a release of CO2 and CH4 to the atmosphere, which could
accelerate warming – a classic “positive feedback” situation.
Carbon dioxide and CH4 are both, of course, “greenhouse gases
(GHGs)” .

Tundra landscape at Chokurdakh,

Yakutia, the Russian Federation
(Matthias Siewert).

Due to the strong seasonality in energy receipts at high north- These regions also bear the clear legacy of environmental

ern latitudes, as well as the enhanced sensitivity of many changes of the past (through the Ice Ages of the last 2.5 mil-
biological and chemical reactions to warming when tem- lion years), and of mismatches in the rates of key biogeochem-
peratures are low, these regions represent the “front-line” in ical processes (e.g. in carbon cycling); a result of the latter is
terms of on-going and potential impacts of climate change on the massive stock of carbon (at least now 1,700 Petagrams;
biogeochemistry and the Earth System. Related to this is the where 1 Pg = 1,000,000,000 tonnes) “stored” in permafrost
energy balance of ecosystems which in itself will have interac- soils. A key question, however (see later), is, for how long? This
tions with climate as the proportions of energy absorbed and is particularly important in the context of environments and
reflected by different land surfaces will change with chang- landscapes undergoing rapid transition (Section 2).
ing vegetation and duration of lake ice and snow cover (Sec-
tions 3, 5 and 6). Although northern regions can no longer be INTERACT-funded projects have tackled some of the key
considered “remote” from direct Human impacts (Section 7), unknowns or uncertainties in the biogeochemistry and biogeo-
their populations are low compared with the mid-latitudes physics of northern high latitudes, and this section presents a
of the Northern Hemisphere; in the terrestrial realm (the land selection of these. What each project emphasises is the strong
surface and freshwaters) we can distinguish the direct and link between the broader Earth System (including the climate)
indirect effects of environmental (including climate) change and the biosphere in the North. Each project also emphasizes
on biogeochemical processes and energy exchange more how organisms, communities and ecosystems responding
clearly here than in more densely populated regions further to environmental change have the potential to exert power-
south, where impacts of direct human land-use predominate. ful (often reinforcing) feedbacks on those changes. Further-

Figure 4.1  Three-dimensional

representation of the global distribution
of atmospheric CO2 for 2000-2009
Carbon uptake (highlighted in red is the 10-degree
390 during high latitude band in which Ascension Island
latitude summer resides; a reference site in the tropical
CO2 (µmol mol–1)

Atlantic). This diagram illustrates the

380 direct coupling that exists between the
biosphere and the Earth’s atmospheric
370 composition, showing the strong within-
year variability in concentrations of CO2
Change particularly at high northern latitudes.
360 Small seasonal over the
4 differences in the years
From NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory.
tropics where the
350 reference site (red)
is located
0° Figure 4.2  Substantial emissions of
Latitude 30°S CH4 and CO2 from surface waters to the
60°S 2008 2009
2006 2007 atmosphere have been, until recently, a
90°S 2004 2005
2002 2003 neglected flux in the terrestrial carbon
2000 2001 Year
cycle. Making thaw measurements at an
Arctic location in Canada (P.A. Wookey).

more, in contrast to the common (but

misguided) impression of uniformity of
ecosystems and landforms in the North,
there are marked variations at a range
of contrasting spatial scales (described
below) which exert strong influences
on biogeochemical and biogeophysical
processes. It is of critical importance to
understand this variability, and how it
might change in the future, in order for
us to model and predict how the bioge-
ochemistry and energy exchange of the
North will respond to environmental
changes, and how this will influence the
role of the circumpolar North in Earth’s Soil organic carbon
storage (0–3 m):
life support systems. 0.1–30 kg m–2
30–50 kg m–2
Biogeochemistry and biogeophysics 50–100 kg m–2
interact to affect ecosystem carbon 100–260 kg m–2
stocks and greenhouse gas fluxes.
Fundamentally, the fact that there is Figure 4.3  Map showing the soil organic carbon pool (kg C per metre squared)
so much carbon in permafrost soils contained in the 0-3 m depth interval of the northern circumpolar permafrost
zone. Points show field site locations for 0-3 m depth carbon inventory
relates to an imbalance, over geological
measurements; field sites with 1m carbon inventory measurements are too
timescales, between the rates of car-
numerous to show (Schuur and others 2015).
bon inputs (through photosynthesis)
and losses (through decomposition,
and release to surface drainage waters Atmospheric C
(Figure 4.2)). Decomposer organisms in
soils and sediments are very sensitive OXIC ANOXIC
to low temperatures (Karhu and oth-
Ffire Thermokarst Ffire
ers 2014) and to lack of oxygen, so in
CO2, CO2,
cold and often waterlogged, boreal and
Plant C Plant C
4 CH4
tundra soils, decomposition is slow. By Raut Drying Raut
contrast, photosynthesis in these envi- NPP NPP
ronments is relatively more responsive
to light and nutrient (particularly nitro- Active Active
gen and phosphorus) availability than layer C layer C
CO2, CH ,
Rhet Rhet CO 4
temperature. Overall, where photosyn- CH
4 2

thesis exceeds decomposition rates, Thawed C Thawed C

organic matter (and therefore carbon)
build up in soils and sediments. As this
builds up, year on year, the depth of Permafrost C
thaw each melt season cannot keep up
with the rate of carbon accumulation, Figure 4.4  Conceptual diagram of the effect of permafrost thawing on climate.
so it gradually freezes-in to permafrost. Permafrost carbon, once thawed, can enter ecosystems that have either
Figure 4.3 shows the consequences of predominantly oxic (oxygen present) or predominantly anoxic (oxygen limited)
this for current soil carbon “densities” soil conditions; this strongly influences the global warming potential (From Schuur
and others 2008).
(amounts expressed per square-metre).
We need to know about this carbon at
a range of scales, from circumpolar (as shown here) through the landscape then CO2 will be the main product. Both of
regional, down to hillslope, or sub-metre scales, because cli- these gases are radiatively forcing (“greenhouse”) gases, and
mate warming increases permafrost thaw a­ nd makes soil car- their emissions are very sensitive to increasing temperature,
bon potentially vulnerable to decomposition. If this occurs in so net emissions to the atmosphere are important contribu-
situations where soils are waterlogged then this decomposi- tors to global warming. The amounts of carbon stored are
tion takes place via fermentation reactions (where oxygen is not trivial either; about 1,700 Pg carbon in permafrost soils,
lacking), with both CH4 and CO2 as a product (Christensen compared with less than half of that in the atmosphere, and
2014) (Figure 4.4). If it takes place in a freely-drained part of annual emissions from burning of fossil fuels of about 9 Pg.

be associated with changes in their fluxes between land and

atmosphere. Therefore, these carbon exchanges also have to

be placed in perspective with other coinciding changes to
ecosystem functioning that relate to energy exchanges and,
hence, also radiative forcing. These include a range of pivotal
processes such as the duration of snow cover and lake, as well
as sea-ice, cover. They also relate to external drivers that can
affect snow and ice associated processes and feedbacks such
as the deposition of black carbon from general pollution or
from extensive northern forest fires (Keegan and others 2014)
(Science Story 3.2). In a more subtle way, even the change in
vegetation composition and “shrubification” that is now hap-
pening in the Arctic can, in itself, also alter the energy balance
of the ecosystems to an extent where it may be as important
as the potential effects of changes in the greenhouse gas
exchanges mentioned above.

Therefore the feedback mechanisms from these ecosystems in

a changing climate are a complex issue that relates both to the
biogeochemical and to the biogeophysical processes.


A key facet of northern environments, referred to briefly in
this book’s introduction section, is the dramatic seasonality,
especially at locations away from the moderating effect of
open (unfrozen) oceans, on land temperatures. In the terres-
trial realm there is a growing awareness that biological pro-
cesses (and therefore biogeochemical and biogeophysical
processes), although dictated strongly by the seasons, and
most rapid in the thaw period, do not cease entirely through
the winter. Although snow-melt is a time of rapid change in
Figure 4.5  Determining soil carbon stocks in permafrost
4 environments is technically challenging as well as back-
surface energy budget and biological activity, as investigated
breaking. There are no short-cuts in collecting this critical in the following Science Stories 4.1 and 4.3, there is growing
information, and many sites across landscapes and regions evidence of continued microbial activity in soils through the
need to be sampled. This picture shows peat sampling, for winter (even when soils and sediments are frozen, liquid water
the PATTERN project (Science Story 4.2), at Spasskaya Pad, is still present in microsites). Snow cover plays a pivotal role
central Siberia, surrounded by mosquitos (Mattias Siewert). in soil and vegetation thermal regimes (patterns of temper-
ature), as well as in surface energy budget (balance between
energy input and output), and is already undergoing rapid
Science Stories 4.1 and 4.2 are tackling questions relating to change (Section 3).
the spatial variability and controls on soil carbon stocks in
the circumpolar North, and the actual and potential effects CLIMATE CHANGE IS NOT THE ONLY FACET OF
of climate variability and change on the fluxes of greenhouse CHANGE
gases such as CO2 and CH4 as well as the ecosystem energy Science Story 4.3 explicitly addresses aspects of global envi-
exchange (Figure 4.5). They highlight, respectively, the role of ronmental change which are not directly “climate”; the eco-
seasonality (especially snow cover) for energy budgets and logical effects of increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations
GHG fluxes between tundra (at Kobbe­fjord and Zackenberg, and increasing fluxes of UV-B radiation to the surface (both
Greenland) and the atmosphere, and the coupling between a result of human activities). Although, arguably, subtler
landscape location and landform (“geomorphological”) history than warming effects, these facets of global change have the
after recent loss of glaciers (Section 1) for soil and sediment potential to result in cumulative ecological impacts which
carbon contents in both boreal forests (Spasskaya-Pad, central are superimposed upon, and may interact with, the effects of
Siberia) and Arctic tundra (Chokurdakh, northern Siberia). climate change. In this respect, the experiment upon which
The general concern about the stocks and vulnerability of Science Story 4.3 was based was running for 20 years prior to
organic carbon in Arctic ecosystems ultimately relates to CO2 the measurements reported here. This kind of long-term, con-
and CH4 as greenhouse gases, and therefore the radiative forc- certed, effort is essential for understanding whole ecosystem
ing (the degree to which the gasses warm the Earth) that may and biogeochemical/biogeophysical responses to change.

Key messages and needs for further research
CARBON DIOXIDE AND „„ The spatial heterogeneity in landscapes points to the need for novel

METHANE ARE NOT THE ONLY approaches and modelling to achieve reliable up-scaled (i.e. small
GASES OF INTEREST scale measurements made relevant to the larger scale) results relevant
Science Stories 4.4 and 4.5 are inves- for climate feedback studies at the global scale.
tigating other biogenic compounds „„ Although we understand the Arctic biogeochemical and biogeophysi-
emitted to the atmosphere (by plants) cal processes much better now than a few decades ago, improving our
which can influence climate. These basic process understanding is still a highly prioritized issue.
biogenic volatile organic compounds „„ Our incredibly low predictive capability in relation to hydrological
(BVOCs) play a role in climate through change at landscape scale remains a serious problem. Much improved
influencing the formation of secondary
understanding on this pivotal driver of changes in ecosystem pro-
organic aerosol particles and cloud con-
cesses is badly needed.
densation nucleii, as well as exerting an
influence on atmospheric ozone (O3)
„„ Thresholds and non-linear accelerating changes in ecosystem pro-
concentrations, and CH4 oxidation pro- cesses are “wild cards” in the climate system and very poorly under-
cesses. But they are also important to stood. Nevertheless, the Arctic holds a tremendous potential for such
plants in their defenses against herbi- changes to happen and a better understanding of these is necessary.
vores and also for attracting pollinators. „„ The Arctic Amplification (warming which is substantially greater than
There is growing evidence that both the global average due to several feedback processes; see Serreze
herbivory and warming (Science Story and others 2009) and the influence on biogeochemistry and biogeo-
4.5) may interact to influence BVOC physical processes, are also issues which need attention to understand
emissions from some plant species. Sci- future climate changes and impacts.
ence Story 4.4 also provides compelling „„ Integrating across terrestrial, marine and atmospheric realms is start-
evidence, through the deployment of
ing to become a pivotal issue as we realise that there is no way we can
state-of-the-art techniques (Proton-
quantify and understand biogeochemical processes on land in isola-
Transfer-Reaction Mass Spectrometry) in
Greenland, of the importance of tem-
tion. For example, we cannot understand carbon cycling on land with-
perature in controlling BVOC emissions out being able to account for transportation through river systems
from plants. and the fate of carbon in the coastal environment. Much more holistic
approaches are badly needed including links among terrestrial, fresh-
water, coastal and atmospheric sciences.

Further information and references
Philip A. Wookey1 & Torben R. Christensen2
Heriot-Watt University, School of Life Sciences, Edinburgh, EH14 4AS, Scotland, UK

Department of Physical Geography and Ecosystem Science,


Lund University, Lund, Sweden


Christensen, T.R. 2014. Climate science: Understand Arctic methane variability. Nature 509:
279–281, DOI:10.1038/509279a.
Hugelius, G., Tarnocai, C., Broll, G. and others 2013. The Northern Circumpolar Soil Carbon
Database: spatially distributed datasets of soil coverage and soil carbon storage in the
northern permafrost regions. Earth System Science Data 5:3-13, DOI:10.5194/essd-5-3-
Karhu, K., Auffret, M.D., Dungait, J.A.J. and others 2014. Temperature sensitivity of soil respi-
ration rates enhanced by microbial community response. Nature 513:81-84.
Keegan, K.M., Albert, M.R., McConnell, J.R. and Baker, I. 2014. Climate change and forest fires
synergistically drive widespread melt events of the Greenland Ice Sheet. PNAS 111:7964-
Schuur, E.A.G., Bockheim, J., Canadell, J.G. and others 2008. Vulnerability of permafrost car-
bon to climate change: Implications for the global carbon cycle. Bioscience 58:701-714.
Schuur, E.A.G., McGuire, A.D., Schädel, C. and others 2015. Climate change and the perma-
frost carbon feedback. Nature 520: 171–179.
Serreze, M.C., Barrett, A.P., Stroeve, J.C. and others 2009. The emergence of surface-based
Arctic amplification. The Cryosphere 3:11-19.

Energy exchange in the Arctic

– a “butterfly effect” for the global climate?

Christian Stiegler, Anders Lindroth & Torben R. Christensen

The Arctic tundra landscape is like the wings of a butterfly: AIMS OF THE PROJECT
Unique, mystical, majestic and painted in vivid colours. But The interest in understanding the climate system better has
like the butterfly’s wings are sensitive to a single finger touch, intensified in recent years but the mechanisms of energy and
the Arctic tundra is sensitive to climate change. A key com- greenhouse gas exchange in the Arctic tundra is still poorly
ponent in understanding this sensitivity is the exchange of understood. We, a group of researchers from the Nordic Cen-
energy and greenhouse gases between the tundra and the tre of Excellence DEFROST, want to shed more light on the
atmosphere. Even a small variation in this complex interplay interplay between the Arctic tundra and the atmosphere. The
between land and air can cause dramatic changes in snow whole idea is to understand the processes of energy and green-
cover distribution, vegetation cover, permafrost occurrence house gas exchange and to explain how and why changes in
and atmospheric greenhouse gas concentration. Like any this sensitive landscape influence our global climate. In this
other landscape, the tundra constantly exchanges energy story we explain our research on energy exchange.
and greenhouse gases with the atmo­sphere but because the
tundra covers large parts of our planet, it is of crucial impor- WHAT DID WE DO?
tance for the global climate system. DEFROST has installed a network of measuring stations in
Greenland, Svalbard and in northern Scandinavia in the last
couple of years. At these stations dozens of instruments con-
stantly monitor the state of the tundra and the atmosphere.
Some operate with a striking speed as fast as a blink of the
human eye. During the summer months, when sunlight hits
the tundra 24 hours a day, we also use a mobile tower system
similar to the permanent measuring stations. This system is a
valuable tool we can use to study the exchange of energy and
4 greenhouse gases at different locations.

Most of our study areas like Zackenberg Research Station
(• 70) and the Kobbefjord area close to the Greenland Institute
of Natural Resources (• 67) in the capital Nuuk, look like an
Arctic storybook: glaciers on the mountain tops, crystal clear
lakes, steep slopes, broad vegetated valleys but millions of
mosquitoes! The Kobbefjord area is perfectly suited for high-
quality research because we benefit from close collaboration
with other scientists such as plant biologists, limnologists,
oceanographers and geologists. This gives us the opportunity
to think “outside the box” and to view the situation from dif-
The transport of mobile energy measuring tower in ferent perspectives.
Zackenberg, Greenland (Christian Stiegler).

Panoramic view of the Kobbefjord area (Greenland)

showing different vegetation types in June 2012
(Christian Stiegler).

A measuring station in

Zackenberg (Greenland)
0.8 (Anders Lindroth).




Bare soil Shrub Fen Meadow Heath Snow
Surface cover

Average values of albedo in relation to various surface

conditions at our study sites. The measurements were taken
during two weeks in June 2012 in Kobbefjord (bare soil, changes affect albedo, but more importantly, they change
shrub, fen, meadow) and during two weeks in April 2012 the energy and greenhouse gas exchange between the atmo­
(snow) and August 2012 (heath) in Zackenberg. sphere and the tundra. It might be small on a local scale, but
like a single flap of a butterfly’s wing might cause a storm, shifts
in the exchange of energy and greenhouse gases between the
tundra and the atmosphere can change our global climate. It
WHAT DID WE FIND? is our job to find out how powerful the flap is!
One parameter we are interested in is albedo. The albedo of
a surface describes how much of the incoming sunlight is THE ADVENTURE
reflected. Dark surfaces, such as wet soil or any water surface, How do you spend your time when the field work is done for
have low albedo whereas white and bright surfaces, such as the day: watch snow and ice crystals under the microscope,
snow, have a high albedo. We found out that snow cover has listen to the breathless silence, play volleyball under the mid-
an important impact on the energy balance at our study sites. night sun, count the mosquito bites on your body, watch the
Like a giant white shield the snow blocks off the Sun’s energy northern lights, warm your cold fingers and toes in the sauna,
from warming the tundra surface. When the snow has finally learn some words in Greenlandic, spot Arctic foxes, seals and
melted we see that soil moisture and the type of plant cover muskoxen, ride snowmobiles, use exciting transport systems, 4
affect albedo. Because of their low albedo, shrub and wet fen fly in the Twin Otter aircraft, listen to sailor’s yarns of polar bear •
areas absorb more incoming sunlight than dry heath vegeta- encounters … 1
tion. As taller plants pushing up through the snow are invad-
ing many tundra areas, albedo is being further reduced.
Further information
WHY ARE THE RESULTS IMPORTANT? Christian Stiegler, Anders Lindroth & Torben R. Christensen
Climate change scenarios show that snow cover duration Department of Physical Geography and Ecosystem Science,
and snow cover thickness in parts of the tundra will decrease Lund University, Lund, Sweden.
within the next decades. The scenarios predict an even more Contact:
dramatic temperature increase. An earlier snowmelt allows
the Sun’s energy to warm the vegetated surface for a longer
period. Higher temperatures and changes in soil moisture can
boost the expansion of shrubs and wet fen areas. All these

Panoramic view of the Zackenberg area (Greenland)

in April 2012 showing the snows surface with high
albedo (Christian Stiegler).

Patterns of carbon storage

Soils in permafrost landscapes store twice as much carbon as

what is currently in the atmosphere in the form of CO2. These
in a Siberian permafrost are remote and vast areas, but at the same time the land-
scapes are incredibly variable with many different permafrost
landscape landforms. It is believed that these landforms influence the
accumulation and vulnerability of soil carbon to release as a
Gustaf Hugelius & Matthias B. Siewert greenhouse gas.


We wanted to investigate how the unique landforms that are We found that the different permafrost landforms in these
found in permafrost areas affect the cycling and storage of areas are associated with very distinct soil and vegetation
carbon in Siberian landscapes. types. Our results show that if you want to understand and
model how the carbon cycling of these ecosystems works and
WHAT DID WE DO? will respond to future climate warming, you need to consider
We worked across all different landscape types at our two which type of permafrost landform you are dealing with. We
study sites and described landforms, vegetation and soils. We have also found that the different permafrost and land-form-
sampled vegetation and soil and cored into the permanently ing processes are working at different geographical scales,
frozen ground. In some places we collected samples that con- ranging from metres to kilometres across.
tain old plant remains that have been locked in
517500.000E 518250.000E
permafrost since before the maximum extent of
the last ice age more than 50,000 years ago. We
combined the results from our field work with
analyses of very high-resolution satellite images
which let us map all the different types of vege-
tation and permafrost landforms that are found
in these areas.

4 We worked at the Spasskaya Pad Scientific
• Forest Station (• 39) in central Siberia and the
2 Chokurdakh Scientific Tundra Station (• 41) in
northern Siberia. These stations are located far
from each other in taiga and tundra, two very
different ecosystems. Despite this, they are
both situated on cold continuous permafrost
with similar permafrost processes and com-

parisons between the two areas are important. 7857750.000N

Only in the continental climate of Siberia, with
extremely cold winters, can one find permafrost
as far south as here. These research stations
have long histories of ecological and permafrost
research and the station managers know much 517500.000E 518250.000E
about the environments and ecosystems. Soil Organic Carbon storage:
0 250 500 m
Low Soil sampling point
High Water
Tundra landscape at Chokurdakh
(Matthias B. Siewert). Map of soil organic carbon distribution in Chokurdakh.

Permafrost soils contain twice as much carbon as that cur-
rently stored in the Earth’s atmosphere. In a warmer climate,
thawing permafrost (Section 2) will start releasing this carbon
into the atmosphere in the form of greenhouse gases. In order
to better understand and model how much may be released
we need to understand the permafrost processes that affect
Trapped in quicksand at Chokurdakh
carbon storage in permafrost and the landscapes where this
(Niels Weiss).
carbon is stored.

Sampling peat at Spasskaya Pad protected against The Spasskaya Pad Research Station is located in Larch domi-
mosquitos (Matthias B. Siewert). nated forest where fires are frequent. You can see signs of old
forest fires everywhere in the landscape. While we were doing
our field sampling, forest-fires were raging close to the station.
We were often smelling and seeing smoke and there were fire-
fighting aircraft flying overhead. In the end, the winds were
favourable and the station was not affected by any fires.

In Chokurdakh, we used a boat to collect samples at sites

across the river. At first, the shore seemed like a good boat 4
landing site, but we soon realized that our rubber boots got •
stuck in the loose mud. We hurried to unload the boat; how- 2
ever, it became harder and harder to reach it. In the end, Mat-
thias was stuck in quicksand up to his knees and after 30 min-
utes up to his hip. The others covered the ground with shrubs
to stabilize the quicksand and finally managed to pull him out.

Further information
Gustaf Hugelius & Matthias B. Siewert.
Department of Physical Geography,
Stockholm University, Sweden.


How does increasing CO2 affect soil microbial diversity

and carbon fluxes?

Dylan Gwynn-Jones, Alan Jones, Nick Ostle, Arwyn Edwards, John Scullion, Richard Hill, Dave Comont,
Jenny Bussell, Simon Oakley, Kelly Mason & Terry V. Callaghan

The sub-Arctic landscape with the Abisko

Village in the foreground and the Abisko
Scientific Research Station to the extreme left
(Richard Hill).

When we burn fossil fuels and produce CO2 where does it

all go? We should all know about global warming and the
increasing levels of CO2 in our atmosphere. Some of the CO2
produced by burning fossil fuels is absorbed by plants on
land and in the sea. If we did not burn fossil fuels we would
expect the planet to be in some kind of balance. However,
4 the global problem we have is that we are burning fossil
• fuels and our planet does not have the capacity to absorb
3 this extra CO2 produced, leading to global warming. This
project builds on current UK funded research targeting
whether sub-Arctic heath communities have the capacity
to assimilate and store additional carbon produced in an
elevated CO2 world.

To analyse microbial diversity we used modern DNA

fingerprinting and sequencing methods (Alan Jones).


Our aim, via an INTERACT Transnational access funded project
was to investigate seasonal variation in CO2 fluxes (includ-
ing winter) and to more closely focus on how CO2 affects soil
microbial diversity using molecular methods.


We measured seasonal variation in carbon fluxes in the winter
and summer and looked closely at the microbial populations
in the soil. For carbon fluxes we measured the balance of CO2
produced (from plant and soil respiration) with that assimi-
lated (via photosynthesis), together we can then calculate the
carbon balance. For microbial analyses we used modern DNA
fingerprinting and sequencing methods t­o understand how
diversity varies according to time (season) and space (1 m to
50 m scales) .
We accessed an existing experiment that had exposed a sub-
Arctic heath to elevated CO2 over two decades (Richard Hill).

Dye signal







0 50 100 150 200 250 300
Size (nt)
Size (bp)




We worked at the Abisko Scientific Research Station (•  11)­ to
Example (T-RFLP) DNA fingerprint of the bacterial
access an existing experiment that had exposed a sub-Arc-
community in an Arctic heathland soil. Each blue peak is
tic heath to elevated CO2 over two decades. The sub-Arctic a different group of bacterial species. (Below) Bacterial
heath typically has extensive root and soil systems. The pro- DNA amplified from the soil for high-throughput DNA
ject focussed on seasonal effects (including winter) of carbon sequencing using IonTorrentTM. Each glowing band of
fluxes and looked at the variation of the microbial population DNA contains fragments from the genomes of thousands 4
surrounding the experimental site. of different bacterial species in the soil. •
We found large seasonal variation in CO2 fluxes from the sys-
tem in terms of photosynthesis and respiration. Community (to the atmosphere) during the winter months. The insect out-
photosynthesis was affected by the CO2 treatment but this break was an opportunity to also look at carbon fluxes in an
was dependent on the time of year and environmental con- ecosystem exposed to large scale herbivore damage.
ditions. Importantly in 2012, the experimental site was at the
same time exposed to an insect outbreak by the autumn moth The microbial analyses undertaken show that we can now reli-
(Epirrita autumnata). Photosynthesis was clearly affected by ably use this research platform to investigate the long-term
insect herbivory and associated damage to leaves. Insect frass effects of elevated CO2 on the soil.
(excrement) introduced to the soil promoted CO2 produc-
tion via soil respiration. We therefore had to identify long- THE ADVENTURE
term effects of CO2 in a system that was being exposed to If we put aside sampling in deep snow and whiteouts in win-
tremendous change via the insect activity. These insects are ter. The most exciting part of our adventure was our journey
an important part of this sub-Arctic ecosystem and such out- into the unknown and deep into the Arctic soil to explore its
breaks occur every decade (Section 5). most enigmatic biodiversity.

At the microbial level we observed a community that was

most variable in the spring at snow melt when much water Further information
entered the soil from snow. In terms of space, diversity was Dylan Gwynn-Jones 1, Alan Jones1, Nick Ostle2, Arwyn Edwards1,
surprisingly consistent. John Scullion1 Richard Hill1, Dave Comont1, Jenny Bussell1,
Simon Oakley3, Kelly Mason3 & Terry V. Callaghan4


Aberystwyth University, UK, 2 Lancaster University, UK, 3 CEH
Most studies that look at carbon fluxes focus on peak biomass Lancaster, UK, 4 Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences, Sweden
– a time in the summer when the plants have fully developed
and are green. This study looked at seasonal variation in car- Contact:
bon fluxes and confirms that these systems even lose carbon

Fluxes of biogenic volatile organic compounds

from plants in Greenland

Thomas Holst

Plants emit different amounts of these trace gases mostly

dependent on temperature and light conditions, and BVOCs
(biogenic volatile organic compounds) can react with
greenhouse gases or enhance aerosol production in the
atmosphere with significant impact on the climate system.
The composition of the specific chemical blend emitted from
Arctic ecosystems, as well as its variability with the season is,
however, hardly known.


The aim of this project was to monitor and quantify the
exchange of specific trace gases (BVOCs) between the atmo­
sphere and the vegetation cover at a coastal site in Greenland.


To observe the trace gas emissions for a whole ecosystem con-
tinuously over most of the growing season and autumn, a very
specific trace gas analyzer, a Proton Transfer Reaction Mass
Spectrometer, was set up at the field site. This instrument was
Instrument mast with high-resolution wind measurements combined with high-frequency wind measurements to calcu-
and air intake for trace gas analyses set up near the Arctic late the exchange (which is turbulent due to rapidly changing
Station (Disko Island, Greenland) (Thomas Holst). wind speed and direction) of a set of trace gases between veg-
4 etation and the atmosphere. While this method is often used
• for gases like water vapor or carbon dioxide, this project was
4 the first to apply this technique in Greenland for BVOCs.


The project was operating at the Arctic Station (• 66) in Qeqer-
tarsuaq (Disko Bay) in central West Greenland. The Arctic Sta-
tion is located in a low Arctic, coastal climate. The surround-
ings of the station are dominated by a high number of plant
species, with almost half of Greenland’s plant species present.
Along the coastline, a ca. 300 m wide vegetation belt extends
on a transition zone from continuous to discontinuous per-
mafrost. This vegetation belt provided a suitable site for the
measurements representing an entire ecosystem.

Additionally, excellent logistics and transport as well as line

power supply was available from the Arctic Station: these
were essential for using the instrumental set-up.


We were able to cover a large part of the growing season
into late autumn, which was more than expected. The data
showed that the ecosystem in Disko Bay emitted about the
same amounts of BVOCs as those from other sites at high lati-
tudes, for example in Abisko in sub-Arctic Sweden – even if
Setting up a specific mass spectrometer to measure the vegetation is different. At both sites the emissions increase
trace gas exchange at the Arctic Station on Disko Island, strongly with temperature, showing that temperature stress
Greenland (Thomas Holst). for the plants due to climate change might boost emissions of
BVOCs from these ecosystems.


BVOCs are chemically very reactive (react easily with other The site in Qeqertarsuaq on Disko Island of course was most
chemicals) and important for atmospheric chemistry, for spectacular with flat-topped mountains, icebergs floating by
example the ozone cycle or the oxidation (breakdown) of throughout the summer and whales passing by occasionally.
methane – an important greenhouse gas. But they are also However, weather conditions were challenging for operating
important as precursors of secondary organic aerosols (i.e. indi- this specific mass spectro­meter in a small instrument shelter.
rectly formed organic aerosols), which then influence cloud Luckily the tent survived even the first autumn storm, and
processes and have impacts on the climate system (clouds measurements were made more or less continuously from
can lead to both cooling and warming of the Earth’s surface). early summer until early October.
The climate impacts of these aerosols currently is one of the
least understood processes in the climate system – and as the
specific trace gases measured during this project are impor-
tant for forming these aerosols, we need to understand the Further information
processes causing their emissions to be able to improve the Thomas Holst
climate models. Department of Physical Geography and Ecosystem Science,
Lund University, Sweden
Taking instruments designed for lab-conditions out to remote
field sites and running them under harsh conditions is always Holst, T., Arneth, A., Hayward, S. and others 2010. BVOC ecosystem
a challenge, but there was a lot of support both from the Arctic flux measurements at a high latitude wetland site. Atmospheric
Station and the Center for Permafrost (CENPERM) in Copenha- Chemistry and Physics 10:1617-1634.
gen. They provided logistics and line power supply needed to Paasonen, P., Asmi, A., Petäjä, T. and others 2013. Warming-induced
run the instruments, and this project funded by an INTERACT increase in aerosol number concentration likely to moderate cli-
Transnational access award initiated some more collaboration mate change. Nature Geoscience 6: 438-442.
between CENPERM and Lund University.

Isoprene Example of exchange of two
300 biogenic volatile organic
Flux (µg/m2 h)

200 compounds (Methanol and

100 Isoprene) observed above an
ecosystem in Greenland during 4
a week in July 2013 (lower •
figure), and the strong increase 4
of Isoprene emissions with
-5 0 5 10 15 20
Temperatureair (°C) temperature (upper figure).
750 Positive numbers are net fluxes
Methanol Isoprene from plants to the atmosphere
while negative fluxes are
250 absorbtion by the ground.
Flux (µg/m2 h)


21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28
July 2013

Arctic Station on Disko Island,

Greenland (Thomas Holst).

Controls on volatile organic compound emissions

from northern plants

Riikka Rinnan & Hanna Valolahti

Plants release reactive gases (gases that react easily

with other chemicals)– some with and some with-
out odour. These gases (so called biogenic volatile
organic compounds, BVOCs) have various func-
tions including attracting pollinators to flowers and
deterring herbivores from eating leaves.


We wanted to see whether herbivory or climate warming would alter
the release of reactive gases (BVOCs) from northern plants.


We used bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) as a model plant, and meas-
ured BVOCs emitted from plants growing in experiments mimicking
future warmer conditions. These experiments used clear plastic hexa-
gons to warm plots of forest floor and tundra. Herbivory was mim-
icked by cutting leaves on newly produced plant shoots with scissors.


We worked at the Kilpisjärvi Biological Station (• 12) and Oulanka
4 Research Station (• 17) in northern Finland. Both stations have a long-
• term experiment combining warming and herbivory treatments in
5 their surroundings. The long duration of the experiments (about 20
years) is vital to be able to detect changes that take place slowly.


The results of our BVOC measurements are still under investigation.
We expect that warming by a degree or two increases the BVOC
release from bilberry. Herbivory, which is predicted to increase dur-
ing climate change, normally causes a burst of BVOCs from the plants
when they are harmed. We expect that this burst will be larger in the
warmed plants. We also expect that after the burst, the herbivory-
damaged plants will suffer, so that BVOC release in the long-term will
be less than from the undamaged plants.


BVOCs are not only important for plant-animal interactions. Through
complex chemistry in the air they form tiny sub-micron particles (aer-
osols) that can build clouds and scatter solar rays thereby cooling the
climate. While there are huge uncertainties, climate cooling by cloud
building may be a way in which plants can mitigate global warming.

Meeting reindeer and experiencing the vast and barren wilderness of
Lapland during the total drive of 10,000 km back and forth between Reindeer are one of the largest
the Oulanka and Kilpisjärvi stations during the summer 2013 was an herbivore species in northern latitudes.
adventure itself. Misty early mornings, midnight sun, clouds of mos- Here they graze on summer pasture in
quitoes and a Finnish sauna after a hard day in the field made this a Swedish Lapland (Gunhild Rosqvist).
memorable period of field work.


Studies of plants growing inside a Application of the yearly herbivory Measurements of photosynthesis, which 5
plastic hexagon, which works as an treatment on the bilberry plants (Riikka indicate the general performance of the
open greenhouse and warms the Rinnan). plants (Riikka Rinnan).
environment, resulting in increased
growth (Hanna Valolahti).

Further information
Riikka Rinnan & Hanna Valolahti
Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen, Denmark


Faubert P., Tiiva P., Rinnan Å. and others 2010. Doubled volatile
organic compound emissions from subarctic tundra under sim-
ulated climate warming. New Phytologist 187:199-208.
Rinnan R., Steinke M., McGenity T. and others 2014. Plant volatiles
in extreme terrestrial and marine environments. Plant, Cell and
Environment 37:1776-1789.
Valolahti H., Kivimäenpää M., Faubert P. and others 2015. Climate
change-induced vegetation change as a driver of increased
subarctic biogenic volatile organic compound emissions. Global
Change Biology 21:3478-3488.

5 Life on
Arctic lands

Christian Körner, Brian M. Barnes & Terry V. Callaghan

Over the last 25,000 years of human history, the Arctic, of all
places on Earth, has experienced perhaps the most dramatic
of changes in geography, plant and animal life, and human
occupation. We are now anticipating that changes of near-
equal significance and impact to humans will occur in the
Arctic over the next 50 years. Just 15,000 years ago, large
areas of Arctic Siberia and North America were grasslands and
steppe, populated by vast herds of migrating buffalo, wooly
rhinoceros and mammoths and their predators of lions, saber-
toothed tigers and large wolves and bears.

As the Earth warmed, glaciers melted, sea levels rose and

coast lines changed (Section 1). The mega-fauna became
extinct and Arctic ecosystems were radically altered by wetter
climates and transitioned to an environment that is consid-
ered today as one of the world’s newest and least varied com-
munities of animals and plants. The Arctic has experienced a
relatively limited expansion of human development and envi-
ronmental exploitation during the post-glacial period when
most Arctic Peoples arrived there. However, with the Arctic
now experiencing the most rapid rates of warming on the
planet over the past few decades (Introduction to the book),
and with undeveloped areas becoming accessible for trans-
port, and mineral and oil exploitation, Arctic ecosystems are
undergoing rapid changes. The life on Arctic lands is therefore
facing combined pressures from climate change and direct
human activities (Section 7).

Arctic ground squirrel

(Øivind Tøien).


The Arctic life zone on land can be defined as the circumpolar Latitude and elevation interact to limit biodiversity moving
area north of the latitudinal treeline. This area covers ca. 7 mil- northward. The upper limit of higher plant life is at 6,300 m
lion km2 (ca. 2 million km2 of which is Greenland Ice Sheet), a.s.l. in the southern Himalayas, at 4,500 m a.s.l. in the Euro-
separated from the ca. 13 million km2 coniferous boreal forest pean Alps, at 1,500 m at the Arctic Circle at 500 m a.s.l. in the
zone by the Arctic treeline that marks the seasonal mean tem- high Arctic (e.g. on Svalbard) and at sea level at the polar end
perature isotherm of around 6.4 °C combined with a minimum of higher plant life in northernmost Greenland (Figure 5.2).
3 month growing season length (Paulsen and Körner 2014). One flowering plant species, Saxifraga oppositifolia represents
While overwhelmingly characterized by a short, cool season the cold limit of life, both in the high Arctic as well as at high
and a long cold winter, it would be too simple to view Arc- elevation in the temperate zone (Körner 2011). Increasing ele-
tic life as controlled by low temperature only. Conditions are vation affects temperature, the amount and type of precipita-
not as cold as weather stations make us believe, and there tion, and snow depth and duration. Elevation plays a key role,
are many other environmental drivers of Arctic life that can not only by co-controlling atmospheric temperatures, but
be categorised into four groups, each with various facets: (1) also by creating slopes on which the action of gravity causes
atmospheric drivers, (2) ground related drivers, (3) interac- topographic diversity, which leads to habitat diversity in terms
tions among plants, animals and microbes, and (4) the human of warmth, wind exposure, moisture, snow pack, soil depth
influence (Figure 5.1). and nutrient availability. Because of this action of gravity and
exposure, mountainous terrain bears far
more diversity than flat terrain (Chapin
Solar Water table and Körner 1995).

Minimum Mean Fire Permafrost In addition to elevation, topographic

T and P T and P
diversity (Section 1) also translates into
Climatic Ground and habitat diversity and is the key driver
drivers soil drivers
of biological diversity in the Arctic. This
Timing of Maximum Topgraphy Substrate
T and P events T and P (slope) type driver is not only evident on mountain
slopes but also on flat terrain, whenever
Duration Snow cover
of T and P even minor relief contrasts come into
INTERACTIONS play. As an example, Figure 5.3 illustrates
Plants Herding the patterns of thermal conditions in a
high Arctic environment at 78° N in Sval-
Small animals Large animals Hunting Extrative action bard. In this, by all meteorological stand-
(insects) (vertebrates) (e.g. mining, oil)
ards, very cold world, microhabitats may
Interactions Human
among dimension periodically offer almost tropical life
conditions in summer, with tempera-
Pathogenic Mycorrhizal Logging Water management
fungi fungi (e.g. electric power) tures even above 30 °C. The interaction
of atmospheric conditions and topog-
Bacteria Tourism
and viruses raphy creates a mosaic of life conditions
(Figure 5.4).
5 Figure 5.1  Four groups of environmental influences on Arctic wildlife. The
examples given for each group are not exhaustive, but they cover the major aspects
of action and interaction. Each of these factors can release secondary effects, not
listed, and all four groups of drivers interact (T = temperature, P = precipitation).
Figure 5.2  The low temperature limits
of flowering plants as well as the
The arctic life zone is connected to the global alpine life zone treeline limit depend on latitude and
Nival elevation. Temperatures during the
(corresponding to growing season may not differ a lot
8 high Arctic)
Mexico California between equatorial latitudes and the
Andes Rocky Mts. Alpine
Atlas (corresponding to high Artic. The alpine life zone of lower
6 Alps
Altitude (km)

tundra) latitudes becomes the Arctic-alpine

Scandinavia Montane life zone beyond the Arctic Circle and
4 (corresponding to
boreal) merges with the Arctic life zone north
Low elevation
of the Arctic treeline called tundra in
Tundra (no corresponding the figure. The Arctic looks small in this
zone in the North)
latitudinal projection, but covers twice
0° 10° 20° 30° 40° 50° 60° 70° 80° the land area than the global total of
Equator North alpine land area.


There are about 2,200 species of Arctic flowering plants, ferns
and fern allies, 900 species of mosses and 1,750 species of
lichens in the Arctic (Payer and others 2013). In the low Arctic,
most of the primary production comes from less than 100 spe-
cies of flowering plants, largely from sedges, and dwarf wil-
lows, Ericaceae dwarf shrubs, plus mosses and lichens, with
the most abundant genera Carex, Eriophorum, Vaccinium,
Salix, dwarf Betula, (Figure 5.5), and the moss genus Sphag-
num, all exhibiting milliennia of clonal spreading (vegetative
propagation (De Witte and others 2012)). Although generally
poor in flowering plant species, some high Arctic environ-
ments show a quite unexpected plant diversity: there are ca.
100 species at 82° N near the northern edge of Greenland, and
the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard hosts 163 species. A very
Figure 5.3  A thermal image of an Artic landscape in Svalbard
at 78° N. A fixed camera that records 77,000 temperatures rich moss and lichen flora adds to the overall diversity of pri-
at a time “recorded” this terrain over a bright Arctic summer mary producers (plants that photosynthesise).
day (07:30-24:00 h, 23 July 2008). Each “pixel” is the mean
for that entire period (Scherrer and Körner 2009). Across the The height and complexity of the canopy of Arctic vegeta-
vegetated test area, mean temperatures vary from cold to tion decreases from the treeline northwards: fewer species
hot spots by about 8 degrees during sunny daytime hours. with low canopies cover less and less of the ground surface.
Many high Arctic species are small in stature and form aero-
dynamically dense mats, and thus are modifying their envi-
ronment, as shown in Figure 5.3. While branches and foliage
of trees are exposed to free atmospheric conditions (causing
trees to become affected first when it gets cold), the smaller
plants such as shrubs, tussock grasses, forbs and particularly
“cushion plant“ forms of these, create a microenvironment
that is sheltered and thus much warmer on sunny days. A sec-
ond avenue toward “managing” life in the cold, is rapid growth
and development. Some of the most cold-tolerant Arctic and
alpine plants can mature new shoots and seeds in merely 45
days with some hours above freezing conditions whereas no
tree has been found so far to complete growth and tissue mat-
uration in less than 90 days of appropriate conditions.

As a consequence of low ambient temperature, evaporation

is limited in Arctic environments, causing high soil moisture in
most parts, despite often low precipitation. The combination
Figure 5.4  A high Arctic landscape with a suite of very of low soil temperature and high moisture leads to peaty and 5
different life conditions in close proximity: estuarian turf- acidic soils throughout much of the Arctic. These soils slow
grass, warm slopes with Arctic heath (note how the green nutrient cycling, causing low productivity. However, adding
areas follow topography), Arctic desert beyond with a few nutrients causes the typical Arctic vegetation to change: pro-
specialists such as Arctic poppy and saxifrages, mosses and ductivity increases, but biodiversity decreases as some spe-
lichens (Svalbard, 78° N) (Christian Körner).
cies such as mosses and lichens disappear while grasses and
shrubs become more dominant. In some of the nutrient rich-
A few centimetres of difference in the level of the water est habitats worldwide, under Arctic bird cliffs, lush herbfields
table completely change the biota (assemblages of species). exist, often composed of only one or two species (spoonwort,
Changes may be as dramatic as the presence or absence of Cochlearia groenlandica, and mountain sorrel, Oxyria digyna),
trees in the lower Arctic, but even at small scales, the differ- illustrating the overarching role of nutrients for the appear-
ence of a few cm between a polygon rim and trough (Sections ance of the Arctic’s vegetation. These nutrients come from sea
1 and 2) can affect the diversity of plants. Even slight contrasts food brought back to land by sea birds.
in ground elevation also control snow depth, and thus, active
soil layer thickness (Section 2) and effective growing season The Arctic life zone underwent significant climatic and thus,
length. Organisms can escape conditions they have difficul- vegetation changes during the post-glacial period, with first
ties to cope with by selecting suitable microhabitats over advances of the boreal forest to current latitudes between
often very short distances (Scherrer and Körner 2011). 10,000 and 11,000 years before present, and several retreats

and advances occuring since then (Barnekow 2000). A mega- breaks, browsing ungulates and other herbivores, interactions

trend in response to the warmer climate is that shrubs become with permafrost level, and melt-water from diminishing winter
more abundant in the Arctic world. Arctic species have been snow which often prevents climate related shifts. Most surveys
shown to respond very differently to experimental climatic revealed faster tree growth near the current tree limit. The sen-
warming, with winners (shrubs and grasses/sedges) and los- sitivity of annual growth rings can be used to indicate past tem-
ers (mosses and lichens) (Ims and Ehrich 2013). However, peratures and even ocean temperatures when the shrubs grow
there are variations in this general response (Elmendorf and on islands in the Atlantic Ocean (Science Story 5.1).
others 2012, Callaghan and others 2013) because warming is
not the only changing driver in the Arctic. Extreme weather Increasing severity and range of insect outbreaks in boreal
situations such as warm spells in autumn and winter can have and Arctic regions are impacting forest health. Birch tree defo-
very negative consequences for plant performance in the fol- liation by moths in northern Sweden (Figure 5.1) have off-set
lowing season (e.g. bud development, shoot death and no advances in treeline in some areas (Callaghan and others
fruiting (Bokhorst and others 2009)). A big question is how fast 2013). Also, massive spruce bud worm and birch bark beetle
“winners” of Arctic climate warming will be able to shift loca- outbreaks accelerated by warm summers that allow multiple
tion (e.g. disperse northwards). Elevation gradients over short generations of insects to occur in one season have damaged
distances may offer some guidance. millions of hectares of forests in Alaska and Canada leaving
standing dead forests, prone to devastating wildfires. Out-
The consequences of current rapid warming, in some parts of breaking insect herbivory is expected to increase with climate
the Arctic exeeding 3 degrees (Introduction), include north- warming. In addition, there is constant “background“ insect
wards excursions of the Arctic treeline, but these trends are herbivory that over several decades can result in greater loss
clearly not uniform (Nymand-Larsen and others 2014). The Arc- of plant material than outbreaking insects, and this too, is
tic treeline responds to extreme weather conditions, insect out- expected to increase with climate warming (Science Story 5.2).

(a) (b)

(c) (d)

Figure 5.5  Four major “players” throughout the whole Arctic Circle: (a) mat-forming white dryas (Dryas octopetala), (b) wet-
tundra cotton grass (Eriophorum scheuchzeri), (c) the lichen (Xantoria) and (d) the dominant dwarf birch of the lower Arctic
(Betula nana) (Christian Körner).

Among atmospheric drivers other than climatic warming, phytes“ and are a topic of current research as relatively little is

elevated CO2 was not found to exert the expected so called known about them (Science Story 5.3).
“fertilization” effect in both Arctic and high alpine vegetation,
and UV-B radiation has been shown to have imperceptible Microbial diversity is vast and hitherto poorly understood.
effects on plant species vigour but soil microbes were affected However, the technology for exploring microbial diversity and
(Gehrke and others 1995, Johnson and others 2002). However, function at the molecular level is rapidly expanding (Section
in contrast, even small enhancements of nitrogen deposition 6). Microbial communities are important in all habitats from
(5 kg Nitrogen per hectare per year) exert significant effects the “extremophiles“ that grow inside rocks to carpets in wet
(Wookey and others 2009, Bobbink and others 2010). seepage areas (Science Story 6.5).


Fungi are a major group throughout the Arctic and play major Living in the Arctic are about 67 species of mammals, 154 spe-
roles in the functioning of ecosystems. Lichens (Figure 5.5c) cies of birds, but only 6 species of amphibians and reptiles
are composites of fungi and photosynthesising algae that (Payer and others 2013). In contrast, there are at least 3,000
are an important food source for animals throughout the species of insects, mostly flies (CAAF 2013).
Arctic, especially caribou and reindeer (Callaghan and others
2005). Fungi also develop intimate relationships with plant Animals are either adapted to Arctic winter conditions as year-
roots forming “mycorrhizae“ in which carbon is supplied by round residents or they migrate to warmer regions and avoid
the plants and water and nutrients are supplied by the fungi. the Arctic winter. These migrations may be local, from tundra
Even the plants at the coldest place on Earth with a flower- in summer to boreal forest in winter (e.g. caribou/reindeer) or
ing plant were mycorrhizal (Newsham and others 2009). Some long distance, for example the Red Knot (Calididris canutus), a
fungi also live inside cells of plant seeds. They are called “endo- shorebird, that breeds in spring on Arctic tundra but overwin-

(a) (b)

(c) (d)

Figure 5.6  Four iconic animal species: (a) reindeer (Rangifer tarandus tarandus), (b) Arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus), (c) red knot
(Calidris Canutus), and (d) red flat bark beetle (Cucujus clavipes).
((a) Mikko Jokinen, (b) William Callaghan, (c) Peter Prokosch/GRID-Arendal and (d) Øivind Tøien).


Predators (wasp) Virus

Autumn climate Outbreaks lead to

controls flying ecosystem process

No of Caterpillars
and mating effects:
Winter climate nutrient cycling,
-36 °C controls trace gas emission
11 yrs cycle
egg survival

UV-B and
grazing affect Time

R egeneration
Understory leaves 10s of years
Birch leaves
Spring climate controls leaf
phenology relative to 70 years
egg/larvae development:
summer climate controls Indefinite
leaf biomass Reindeer

Figure 5.7  Example of how populations of autumn moth, an insect pest of sub-Arctic birch forests, is controlled by many drivers
and in-turn, also affects vegetation. In the extreme case, insect outbreaks and high populations of reindeer convert forests to
“tundra” (Adapted by Terry V. Callaghan based on numerous sources, graphic design by Hannele Heikkilä-Tuomaala).

Body temperature (°C)

ters in South America or in Africa (Figure 5.6). Resident
40 animals that over-winter in the Arctic have developed
35 coping mechanisms that lie at the extremes of physi-
30 ological design, for example the Arctic ground squir-
25 rel (Urocitellus parryii) hibernates in permafrost soils
20 and allows its body fluids to supercool to -3.0 °C, the
lowest body temperature assumed by any mammal
(Barnes 1989) (Figure 5.8). Woodfrogs (Rana sylvaticus)
that range to the Arctic Ocean coast in western Canada
overwinter while frozen at body temperatures of -18 °C,
5 0
then thaw in spring and hop away (Larson and others
-5 2014). Arctic red flat bark beetles (Cucujus clavipes) sur-
Aug Dec Apr Aug Dec Apr
vive temperatures of -100 °C by entering a glass-like
Figure 5.8  Core body temperature of a free-living female Arctic state of vitrification in experiments.
ground squirrel (about 1 kg) near Toolik Lake in Arctic Alaska.
Recordings (each 20 minutes) were made by a temperature- Adaptations are also found in behaviour (such as lem-
sensitive datalogger, implanted within the abdomine. The mings and voles that live, feed and breed below snow
trace shows two periods of hibernation wherein the animal (Figure 5.9)) and morphology (body’s form), such as
alternates between prolonged (1-3 weeks) bouts of torpor when
highly insulating fur in reindeer/caribou (these are sub-
body temperature reaches minima of -3 °C and body fluids are
species of the same species) (Figure 5.6a) and white
supercooled and brief arousal intervals when the animal rewarms
briefly (15 hours); arousal intervals may be necessary to allow fur in winter and short ears and legs in the Arctic fox
sleep to occur. The short (4.5 month) summer active period is ­(Figure 5.6b).
when reproduction occurs and growth and fattening by young and
adults, as they prepare for the next hibernation season. However, there are several issues related to changes
in Arctic animal populations due to warming climates
and altered seasonality that we do not understand yet
and that may have major impacts on Arctic systems
including humans (Post and others 2009, Ims and

Mobility Alternative prey Decreasing ground

nesting birds

Range extension

Spring Specialist Competition Generalist Competition Red fox

Climate Snowy owl Arctic fox
Spring flooding 200/ha Diseases,

No of Lemmings
More free
Winter living stages
Climate Ice layers

4–7 years




No of Reindeers
Duration and timing

Summer availability
>50 % <10 % 50 years
Quantity Quality Time

Plant growth

Figure 5.9  Interactions between lemmings, their food plants and their predators – and even species that they do not directly
interact with such as alternative prey of lemming predators. The schematic also shows several ways in which various aspects of
climate warming affect lemming populations and their cycles (Adapted by Terry V. Callaghan based on numerous sources, graphic design by
Hannele Heikkilä-Tuomaala).

Ehrich 2013). Arctic regions are well known for the occurrence lapses the sub-nivian space and coats food plants in ice when
of multi-year cycles in population size of small mammals, such it refreezes, reducing their availability as forage. Also, loss of
as hares, lemmings and voles, and in the number of predators a winter snow cover can result in flooding and drowning of
that feed on them (Figure 5.9). These large swings in animal voles and lemmings, and exposes them to predators (Figure
numbers affect the growth and diversity of the plants they 5.9). A single rain on snow event caused the death of over
feed on, and during population peaks plant production can 20,000 muskoxen on Banks Island in October of 2003 (Put-
be reduced by 25-30% (Callaghan and others 2013). Big Arctic konen and others 2009).
mammals, like grazing muskoxen and caribou/reindeer that
eat lichens in winter, also experience large, seemingly erratic Range extensions of southern predators into the Arctic are
changes in population size, and during lows their availability competing with indigenous predators and affecting food
as game for subsistence hunters is reduced. webs and prevalence of disease; for example, expansion of 5
red fox populations likely aided by road development and
What drives these swings in animal numbers, whether food, human infrastructure associated with oil exploration and
predators, or animal stress or disease (Figure 5.9), is a classic export in northern Alaska have displaced local Arctic fox with
debate among ecologists, but the occurrence of regular cycles the potential of increasing human risk for rabies (Savory and
has been observed to have dampened in some areas of Arc- others 2014).
tic Fenno-Scandinavia, although resuming in others outside
the Arctic (Brommer and others 2010), perhaps as a result of Parasites and insect-borne diseases are invading northward
changing snow conditions due to warmer winters (Ims and and may soon threaten humans, live-stock and wildlife in
others 2008). Voles and lemmings depend on deep snow as Arctic regions. Mosquitoes carrying West Nile disease have
cover from extreme temperatures and wind and spend win- entered Canada, and forest regrowth and warmer winters
ter in sub-nivian tunnels (tunnels on the ground surface under have led to the northern expansions of ticks bearing bacteria
the snow) (Section 3) that create conditions that can support causing Lyme disease in the eastern USA. Outbreaks of para-
breeding and population increases in some species. Caribou/ sites including winter ticks that are surviving warmer winters
reindeer can dig through soft snow to reach lichens, herbs, have led to a 50% reduction in moose populations due to hair
and grasses. These opportunities change for the worse with loss and stress in areas of the northern US and Canada, impact-
“rain on snow” events that are increasing in frequency in the ing subsistence and hunting-take and local economies while
Arctic (Rennert and others 2009), since melting snow col- in Arctic Canada, muskox lung worm infection is increasing.

Key messages and needs for further research
„„ The major questions regarding the future Arctic life and ecosystem

processes relate to (1) the consequences of thawing permafrost (Sec-

INTERACTIONS AMONG SPECIES tion 2), (2) shorter and less regular snow cover (Section 3), and (3) a
Plants (primary producers), animals (sec- change in plant-animal interactions. Since the clonal life form is so
ondary producers) and microbes (often dominant in Arctic plants, some persisting over millennia in a given
decomposers) are mutually dependent location (de Witte and others 2012), it will need certain extremes or
and do not live in isolation. In the past, it thresholds and competitive exclusion, all to be explored, for significant
was thought that because of low diver- changes in Arctic vegetation to occur.
sity, food webs (“trophic interactions“) „„ Key questions relate to how much earlier in spring plant growth or the
were simple and competition between
ephemeral (short-term) appearance of insects may occur in the future
individuals was considered the main
and whether affected consuming species can respond through phe-
mechanism for controlling the structure
of the communities of species. How-
notypic flexibility (non-genetic changes) or rapid evolution to reinstate
ever Story 5.5 by Roslin and co-workers the match.
who used molecular techniques, unrav- „„ The northward spreading of novel insect species and microbial patho-
els very complex interactions between gens bears substantial risks, similar to the loss of ice for some marine
invertebrates and plants. Also, whereas biota, especially walrus, seals and polar bears. It is the rapidity of these
competition is the dominant driving changes, the loss of Arctic biodiversity and the multiple feedbacks to
force structuring communities of plants the climate system (Section 4) that makes global change in the Arctic
in moderate environments, plant-plant an issue of climate concern.
help (facilitation) is more important in „„ It is towards creating a better understanding of the history, current
harsh environments such as those of the structure and function, and future of the Arctic biome and its feed-
Arctic (Carlsson and Callaghan 1991).
back on Earth’s systems and people that INTERACT hopes to contribute
through an expanding network of Arctic field stations and their scien-
The interactions among species, already
complex, are becoming even more
tists and managers.
complicated during climate warming.
Effects of climate change are reducing
lemming numbers in some areas and their predators are turn- increasing daylength in spring, Arctic caribou in Greenland, for
ing to alternative prey (Story 5.6 by Reneerkens) (Figure 5.9). example, move westward in anticipation of producing calves
Also, changes in the timing of snow melt during early spring on calving grounds just as newly emerging plants are available.
warming that leads to early plant growth or insect develop- Early plant growth in West Greenland, however, stimulated by
ment is associated with the potential for “trophic mismatches” early warmth and snow loss is leading to a mismatch between
between these resources and their migrating or hibernating production of calves and the optimal availability of food that
consumers whose appearance is controlled by changes in pho- has been associated with a significant increase in mortality of
toperiod that are not subject to climate change. Triggered by caribou offspring (Post and Forchhammer 2009).

Figure 5.10  One of the first ecosystem warming experiments, Svalbard, 1990 (Terry V. Callaghan).

Further information and references

Christian Körner1, Brian M. Barnes2 & Terry V. Callaghan3,4,5

University of Basel, Switzerland
University of Alaska Fairbanks, USA
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
University of Sheffield, UK
Tomsk State University, Russian Federation


Barnekow, L. 2000. Holocene regional and local vegetation and lake- Gehrke, C., Johanson, U., Callaghan, T.V. and others 1995. The impact
level changes in the Torneträsk area, northern Sweden. Journal of of enhanced ultaviolet-B radiation on litter quality and decom-
Paleolimnology 23:399-420. position processes in Vaccinium leaves from the Subarctic. Oikos
Barnes, B.M. 1989. Freeze avoidance in mammals: Body temperatures 72:213-222.
below 0 °C in an arctic hibernator. Science 244:1593‑1595. Ims, R.A. and Ehrich, D. 2013. Chapter 12: Terrestrial Ecosystems pp
Bobbink, R., Hicks, K., Galloway, J. and others 2010. Global assessment 384-440 In: Meltofte, H., Josefson, A.B. D. Payer (eds.) Arctic Biodi-
of nitrogen deposition effects on terrestrial plant diversity: a syn- versity Assessment. Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF),
thesis. Ecological Applications 20:30-59. Iceland.
Bokhorst, S., Bjerke, J.W., Tömmervik, H. and others 2009. Winter warm- Ims, R.A., Henden, J.-A. and Killengreen, S.T. 2008. Collapsing popula-
ing events damage sub-Arctic vegetation: consistent evidence tion cycles. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 23:79-86.
from an experimental manipulation and a natural event. Journal of Körner, C. 2011. Coldest places on earth with angiosperm plant life.
Ecology 97:1408-1415. Alpine Botany 121:11-22.
Brommer, J.E., Pietiainen, H., Ahola, K. and others 2010. The return of Körner, C. 2012. Alpine Treelines. Springer, Basel.
the vole cycle in southern Finland refutes the generality of the loss Larson, D.J., Middle, L., Vu, H., Zhang, W. and others 2014. Wood frog
of cycles through “climate forcing”. Global Change Biology 16:577- adaptations to overwintering in Alaska: New limits to freezing toler-
586. ance. Journal of Experimental Biology 217:2193-2200.
Callaghan, T.V., Björn. L.O., Chernov, Y. and others 2005. Tundra and Newsham, K.K., Upson, R. and Read, D.J. 2009. Mycorrhizas and dark
Polar Desert Ecosystems. Pp. 243-352 In: ACIA. Arctic Climate septate root endophytes in polar regions. Fungal Ecology 2:10-20.
Impacts Assessment. Cambridge University Press, 1042 pp. Nymand-Larsen, J., Anisimov, O.A., Constable, A. and others 2015.
Callaghan, T.V., Jonasson, C., Thierfelder, T. and others 2013. Ecosystem Chapter 28, Polar Regions. IPCC 5th Assessment.
change and stability over multiple decades in the Swedish subarc- Post, E., Forchhammer, M.C., Bret-Harte, S. and others 2009. Ecological
tic: complex processes and multiple drivers. Philosophical Transac- dynamics across the Arctic associated with recent climate change.
tions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 368:1624. Science 325:1355-1358.
Carlsson, B.A. and Callaghan, T.V. 1991. Positive plant interactions in Payer, D.C., Josefson, A.B. and Fjeldså, J. 2013. Chapter 2, Species diver-
tundra vegetation and the importance of shelter. Journal of Ecol- sity in the Arctic. Pp. 67-76 In: Meltofte, H., Josefson, A.B., D. Payer
ogy 79:973-983. (eds.) Arctic Biodiversity Assessment. Conservation of Arctic Flora
Chapin, F.S. III and Körner, C. (eds.) 1995. Arctic and alpine biodiversity: and Fauna (CAFF), Iceland.
Patterns, causes and ecosystem consequences. Ecological Studies Putkonen, J., Grenfell, T.C., Rennert, K. and others 2009. Rain on Snow:
113, Springer, Berlin. Little Understood Killer in the North. Eos, Transactions American
Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF) 2013. Arctic Biodiver- Geophysical Union 90:221-222, DOI: 10.1029/2009EO260002.
sity Assessment: Status and trends in Arctic biodiversity: Synthesis. Rennert, K.J., Roe, G., Putkonen, J. and Bitz, C.M. 2009. Soil Thermal
CAFF, Iceland. and Ecological Impacts of Rain on Snow Events in the Circumpolar
De Witte, L.C., Armbruster, G.F.J., Gielly, L. and others 2012. AFLP mark- Arctic. Journal of Climate 22: 2302-2315. 5
ers reveal high clonal diversity and extreme longevity in four key Savory, G.A., Hunter, C.M., Wooller, M.J. and O‘Brien D.M. 2014. Anthro-
arctic-alpine species. Molecular Ecology 21:1081-1097. pogenic food use and niche overlap between red and arctic foxes
Elmendorf, S.C., Henry, G.H.R., Hollister, R.D. and others 2012. Plot- in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. Canadian Journal of Zoology 92(8): 657-663,
scale evidence of tundra vegetation change and links to recent DOI 10.1139/cjz-2013-0283.
summer warming. Nature Climate Change 2:453-457, DOI:10.1038/ Scherrer, D. and Körner, C. 2011. Topographically controlled thermal-
nclimate1465. habitat differentiation buffers alpine plant diversity against climate
warming. Journal of Biogeography 38:406-416.

Recent influence of

Dendrochronology is a scientific discipline analysing annual

growth variability of woody plants. In the last decade, den-
climate on shrub growth drochronological analyses have been expanded to ecosys-
tems beyond forests, such as Arctic or alpine tundra. For
around the North‐ instance, dendrochronological methods were applied to
shrubs growing at their distributional margins. In this study
Atlantic Region we were interested in sampling shrubs along a continental-
ity gradient to assess whether, and if so, how the differing
Allan Buras & Martin Wilmking climate conditions along that gradient alter shrub growth.
Such knowledge may be of value when reconstructing past
environments using shrubs.

Willows and the Midtdalsbreen in the

sun – one of the many outlet glaciers of AIMS OF THE PROJECT
the Hardangerjökulen icecap at Finse, We aimed to investigate if shrubs can be used to learn
Norway (Allan Buras). about past environmental and climatic change.
1 Working in rainy weather on the Faeroe Islands (Ilka Beil).
We collected many stems and branches of different typical
northern shrubs, like heather (Calluna vulgaris), willows (Salix
spp.) and junipers (Juniperus communis, an evergreen needle-
leaf, prickly shrub). We then analyzed the annual growth rings in
the laboratory, after sanding the cross-sections of the stems and
branches. The widths of these growth rings tell us something
about how good the conditions were for the shrubs to grow in
a particular year and what factors influenced the growth.


We worked on the Faroe Islands Nature Investigation (• 75),
north of Scotland, to sample a region where the oceanic cli-
mate is very important for the vegetation. We also worked
at Finse Alpine Research Centre (• 7), Norway, close to a large
glacier, the Hardangerjökulen, and we went to Kevo Subarctic
Research Station (• 13) in northern Finland, where the climate
is a lot drier, warmer in summer and colder in winter. These
three sites represented a climatic gradient from so called
hypermaritime Faroe Islands, through maritime-alpine Finse,
to continental Kevo.

The weather is often harsh on the Faeroe Islands Heather (Calluna vulgaris) sampled on the Faeroe Islands

(Ilka Beil). (Ilka Beil).


The oldest shrubs were junipers at Kevo with an age about past disturbance (fire), they can help to reconstruct how much
of more than 400 years. They had survived a large fire a glacier has melted in the past, and they can help us to understand
around 1950 and were now reacting with increasing the dynamics of ocean currents and ocean heat transfer, such as the
growth to warm summers. In Finse, willows and juni- “Gulf Stream”. This is especially helpful, because shrubs are wide-
pers also grew more in warm summers and therefore spread in Arctic areas, where no trees grow and we therefore hope
could be used as proxies (“approximations”) for melt to extend records of past environmental and climate fluctuations
of the Hardangerjökulen, as glaciers melt more in with the help of shrubs. These records are particularly important for
warm summers (see video abstract: http://iopscience. assessing past changes before direct measurements were made. In the Faeroe
Islands, heather grew especially well when the ocean THE ADVENTURE
temperatures around the Islands were warm in summer. On the Faeroe Islands, we encountered harsh weather with rain, fog
Heather annual growth rings were good proxies for sea and storm. Working under such conditions was challenging but excit-
surface temperatures. ing. To reach our field sites, we had to use a helicopter, and then took
a small and bumpy ferry to the island where we collected the shrubs.
WHY ARE THE RESULTS IMPORTANT? On other occasions, we had to hitchhike - it was all great fun. In Finse,
We could show that scientists can use not only trees to on the other hand, we could enjoy working in the sun with the fas-
reconstruct past climate and environmental conditions, cinating view on the Hardangerjökulen ice cap and slept in a small
but also shrubs. The shrubs we analyzed could tell us touristic winter resort, which you could only reach by bike or train.

14 1.4
Heather growth in yellow shows
a similar pattern over time as air 13 1.2
(red line) and sea (blue line) surface 1.0
Temperature (°C)

Ring width index

temperature on the Faeroe Islands in
the Atlantic Ocean. 11

Air temperature
Sea surface temperature
9 0.2
Ring width index
Stem of an 180 year old juniper.
8 0
You can clearly see the annual 1980 1985 1990 1995 2000 2005 2010
growth rings which tell us of the past
(DendroGreif laboratory).

Further information
Allan Buras & Martin Wilmking
Institute of Botany and Landscape Ecology,
University Greifswald, Soldmannstraße 15, 17487 Greifswald, Germany.


Buras, A., Hallinger, M. and Wilmking, M. 2012. Can shrubs help to recon-
struct historical glacier retreats? Environmental Research Letters 7
044031, DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/7/4/04403.1.
Beil, I., Buras, A., Hallinger, M. and others 2015. Shrubs tracing sea sur-
face temperature-Calluna vulagris on the Faroe Islands. International
Journal of Biometeorology, DOI: 10.1007/s00484-015-0963-4.

Patterns of insect herbivory

along altitudinal gradients in a polar region

Mikhail V. Kozlov & Vitali Zverev

At the global scale, the larger part of herbivory is attributed

to insects – “the little things that run the world”. Levels of
herbivory can be classified as “background”, when insect
populations are at their “normal” densities, which are typi-
cal for a given ecosystem in a long-term perspective, and
“outbreak”, when populations of some species occasion-
ally reach very high numbers, dramatically damaging
plants. Although background losses of plant foliage to
insects in sub-Arctic forests are relatively minor, from 1.5 to
7.5 %, even a small increase in background herbivory due
to climate warming can cause severe negative impacts on
tree growth. Studies of insect-plant interactions along nat-
ural abiotic (physical environment) gradients are needed
to evaluate the impacts of climate on insect herbivory
and on this basis to predict effects of climate change on
plant damage by insects. The earlier studies of this kind
were mostly conducted in temperate ecosystems, and they
demonstrated that herbivory usually decreases with both
latitude and altitude of the study site. However, the recent
research by our team hints that the strength of latitudi-
nal and altitudinal changes in herbivory may well differ
between low and high latitudes, and that it may vary with
specific climatic conditions of the study year.

Location of forest, sub-alpine and alpine study sites (showed

by red frames) along the “ecological patch” of the Polar-Alpine
Botanical Garden in the Khibiny Mountains. White spots seen at
sub-alpine and alpine sites are passive greenhouse chambers
established in June 2012 (Vitali Zverev).

The aims of the project were to monitor the background (i.e., establishment of the properly replicated study. Several moun-
non-outbreak) losses of plant biomass to defoliating and tain systems located in the central part of the Kola Peninsula,
leaf mining insects (the larvae that live and feed between close to the Khibiny Educational and Scientific Station (• 26)
the surface cell layers of a leaf ) in several species of woody of the M.V. Lomonosov Moscow State University, differ from
plants along altitudinal gradients in sub-Arctic mountains and each other in geology and in their floristic composition.
experimentally assess the effects of temperature increase on Therefore the results of the studies conducted in this region
these losses. can be generalized over a wide range of environmental condi-
tions. Importantly, the steep slopes of Khibiny, Lovosero and
WHAT DID WE DO? Monche-tundra Mountains are relatively easy to access.
We measured leaf/needle area that was lost to insects in 10
species of woody plants at different altitudes. We also estab- WHAT DID WE FIND?
lished passive greenhouse chambers (which increase the Our findings were somewhat surprising: we did not discover
mean summer air temperature by 1-2 °C) in early summer at the expected decrease in foliar damage with altitude in any
different altitudes and compared plant damage inside and of the studied species of woody plants. Moreover, some plant
outside these chambers at the end of the growing season. species demonstrated paradoxical increase in foliar losses
to insects with altitude, while others showed no altitudinal
WHERE DID WE WORK? changes or a pattern of herbivory with the highest damage
The unique geographical features of the Kola Peninsula, attained at the intermediate altitudes. Meta-analysis demon-
northwestern Russia, made this region best suited for the strated that, in general, the losses of plant foliage to defoli-

The leaves of a mountain birch are damaged by
a number of insects. (a) Serpentine mine created
by a larva of a minute moth from the family
Nepticulidae. (b) Birch leaf rolled by a beetle,
Deporaus betulae. The female of this beetle cuts
most of the way through a leaf, producing an
inverted cone, in which an egg is laid (Vitali Zverev).


Vaccinium myrtillus

Loss of foliage, %

0 200 400 600 800
Altitude, m a.s.l.

A passive greenhouse chamber at a treeline site in the The loss of bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) foliage to
Khibiny Mountains. Mean summer air temperature within defoliating insects increases from 0-1% in forests to 1-5%
these chambers is 1-2 °C above the ambient level, thus above the upper tree limit (data from 2012).
mimicking a future warmer climate. However, the current
weather conditions in a sub-alpine region can change very
rapidly (Vitali Zverev).

ating and leaf mining insects in our study region slightly but THE ADVENTURE
significantly increased with altitude. On the other hand, plant We were extremely surprised by the force of the wind observed
losses to insects in passive greenhouse chambers were gen- one day of June at the upper tree limit in the Monche-tundra
erally higher than outside the chambers, and this effect was Mountains. The wind was so strong that it was impossible to
largest at the intermediate altitudes, in sparse sub-alpine open the doors of the windward side of our car. After leaving
birch woodlands. the car from the opposite doors, we immediately understood
that we needed to change our plans because it was impossi-
WHY ARE THE RESULTS IMPORTANT? ble to do any work and even to walk to our study site.
This is the first study of the altitudinal pattern in insect her-
bivory, which was conducted beyond the Polar Circle. Our
results demonstrate that in harsh environmental conditions Further information
at the upper tree limit some unknown factors may facilitate Mikhail V. Kozlov & Vitali Zverev
insect herbivory relative to the more benign environment Section of Ecology, University of Turku, Finland
of low-altitude forests, counterbalancing adverse effects of
Contact us:;
lower temperatures on insects. The exploration of mecha-
nisms behind the detected altitudinal pattern is likely to Kozlov, M.V., Filippov, B.Yu., Zubrij, N.A. and Zverev, V. 2015.
advance our knowledge on functioning of sub-alpine ecosys- Abrupt changes in invertebrate herbivory on woody plants
tems and improve our predictions on climate change impacts at the forest-tundra ecotone. Polar Biology 38:967-974, DOI:
on mountain and polar regions. 10.1007/s00300-015-1655-6.

Grass seed “hitchhikers”

– grass‐endophyte symbiosis
across the latitudes
Kari Saikkonen

Grasses are tenacious cosmopolitan invaders of terrestrial habitats conquer-

ing every continent on the Earth in greater abundance and distribution than
any other group of higher plants. Interestingly, grasses often have an associ-
ated “hitchhiker”, a symbiotic endophytic fungus, which travels in the seed of
the grass to the new plant generation. These endophytes have been shown to
increase plant vigor, resistance to herbivores and pathogens, and tolerance to
various environmental conditions. Thus, grass endophytes have usually been
labeled as strong plant mutualists (beneficial partners). Recently, however,
an increasing number of exceptions to the expected partnership have been
reported, especially for native grasses.

Measuring the experimental

plants on the Faeroe Islands
(Kari Saikkonen).

Investigation (• 75)), Iceland (Litla-Skard (• 73))

and Greenland (Arctic Station (• 66)). In addi-
tion, our colleagues provided us Festuca rubra
plants from Switzerland and Spain. The indi-
vidual plants were transported to Finland
where they were then grown in greenhouse
Transplantation site at Ruissalo, Turku, Finland (Kari Saikkonen). conditions in the Ruissalo Botanical Garden,
5 University of Turku. The endophyte infection
• status of the plants, their chromosome num-
3 AIMS OF THE PROJECT bers (ploidy levels), molecular variation of the
The project aimed to improve our understanding of the mech- plant and the fungus as well as the morphological taxonomical
anisms underlying phenotypic (non-genetic) variation in red characters of the grasses have been examined.
fescue aggregate (a complex grass species) and how grass-
endophyte symbiosis affects the distribution ranges of fescue Second, we examined whether endophyte symbiosis modu-
species in changing climate. lates fescue distribution and responses to changing climatic
conditions. For this we established a reciprocal transplant
We chose red fescue (Festuca rubra) and its endophyte (common garden) experiment with plants of known endo-
(Epichloë festucae) as our study objects because red fescue phyte status and ploidy levels in Spain, southern- and north-
is distributed throughout the Arctic and also has agronomic ernmost Finland and the Faeroe Islands in 2012. In the fol-
importance as turf. lowing two years, these plants have been monitored for their
survival, growth and reproduction. In addition to these basic
WHAT DID WE DO? growth measurements, chemical and morphological analyses
First, we explored how common these symbiotic endophytic have been conducted on the experimental plants.
fungi in grasses are over a wide geographic range from central
to Arctic and sub-Arctic Europe. Since 2011, we have collected WHERE DID WE WORK?
red fescue plants from southern and northern Finland (Kevo This project combined site specific observation with experi-
Subarctic Research Station (•  13)), southern (Finse Alpine mentation. Because we were interested in the genetic origins
Research Centre (• 7)) and northern Norway (Bioforsk Svan- of the symbiotic relationships and the consequences of these
hovd Research Station (• 8)), Faroe Islands (Faroe Islands Nature symbioses under different environmental conditions, we col-

Northern Finland (Utsjoki, Kevo)

Faroe Islands (Tórshavn)

Festuca rubra

• Plant genotype (clones)

• Endophyte infection (E–/E+)
• Ploidy (2n=28, 42, 56)
Southern Finland (Turku)

Spain (Salamanca)

Transplant experiment.

Festuca rubra collections, Festuca rubra Greenland Iceland Northern

and the endophyte infection Finland

and ploidy frequencies of the

examined populations.
E+ = endophyte infected,
E– = endophyte-free.
. Southern Finland

Faroe Islands

Spain 2n=56

frequencies of endophyte infected grasses were highly vari-

able among populations.

Preliminary results from molecular analyses suggest that

plants can be categorized in a few clearly distinct morphologi-
cal groups and most of the genetic variation can be detected
within populations. In contrast, geographic location explains
62% of genetic variability in the endophyte. Only 30 % of vari- 5
ation was detected within populations. •
This work allows us to examine statistically the relationships
between genetic variation in the fungus and the grass, and
phenotypic variation of the grass, and how they mirror the ori-
gin of the plants and their growth environment.

On the way from Ilulissat to Disko Island in Greenland (Kari
This project has taken us to memorable places, one of the
most impressive being the trip from the small town of Ilulissat
to Disko Island in Greenland. We were standing on the deck
lected material from different geographical locations and of a small boat navigating between the enormous floating ice
grew plants at various INTERACT stations as well as at a loca- sculptures in the midnight sun. This truly gave us a concrete
tion in Spain. perspective to our research on changing climate.

WHAT DID WE FIND? Further information

We found that there is no clear geographic gradient in the Kari Saikkonen
frequencies of endophyte infected plants. Practically all exam- Natural Resources Institute Finland, Turku, Finland
ined plants collected from southern Finland and Greenland
were endophyte-free, and in other geographic locations the

Consequence of climate change

on the fate of Arctic-alpine bumblebees

Baptiste Martinet, Nicolas Brasero, Syndonia Bret-Harte & Pierre Rasmont

Wild bees are important pollinators of both domestic and wild AIMS OF THE PROJECT
plants, and are suffering from a dramatic decline in both diversity Our goal was to collect living bumblebees from as many
and abundance around the world. While much of their decline species as possible from different parts of the Arctic to
is likely due to reductions in their habitat caused by human clarify their phylogenetic relationships, and test their
activities, climate warming is likely to pose another challenge to responses to climate change over both short and long
wild bees, especially bees that live in Arctic and alpine regions. time horizons.
The Arctic is warming faster than any place on Earth, and cur-
rent alpine habitats are decreasing in size as warming moves the WHAT DID WE DO?
environmental envelope up the mountains to higher elevations We collected male bumblebees of as many species as
and into progressively smaller areas. Thus, Arctic and alpine bees possible, and a few females to establish captive breeding
may be especially at risk. To better conserve wild bees that live in colonies, from each Arctic site. We collected mostly males
Arctic and alpine areas, we need to know their current popula- to avoid decreasing the bee populations, because there
tion status, and also how they will respond to climate warming. are more males than needed for breeding. Back in the
laboratory in Belgium, genetic and chemical analyses will
At present, bumblebees are the only type of bees that are abun- be run on the males, and morphological features (aspects
dant in Arctic and alpine areas. These robust, hairy, and social of body shape) will be measured. These data will help in
bees show adaptations that allow them to regulate their body defining the phylogenetic relationships between the spe-
temperature and thrive in the coldest areas of the world that cies. Also, experiments to measure bumblebee response
are inhabited by insects. Also, they are major pollinators in to heat stress in the short-term will be run. Correlations
cold regions. The Alpinobombus sub-genus of bumblebees, the between species distribution, density, and climate data
focus of our study, is one of the largest and most threatened over the last 200 years will be used to assess long-term
sub-­genera of Arctic and alpine bumblebees and has members changes in bumblebee species and the need for conser-
around the circumpolar Arctic. Yet, even within this sub-genus, vation.
our prior results in Europe indicate that some Alpinobombus spe-
cies are very threatened (e.g. Bombus polaris), while others are WHERE DID WE WORK?
not (e.g. B. balteatus). In order to better characterize the phylo­ In our prior work (including support from INTERACT), we
geny (genetic relationships) of these bees and their need for con- had collected samples from several places in the Euro-
servation, and to assess their physiological response to climate pean alpine and Arctic, including the Alps, the Pyrenees,
warming, we needed to collect bees from around the Arctic. This and the Apennine Mountains, and from northern Swe-
5 led us to request a Transnational access award through INTER- den, northern Finland, and northern Norway. However,
• ACT, which brought us to the Tarfala and Abisko stations in Swe- we did not have any samples from the North American
4 den, and Toolik Field Station in Alaska, USA. Arctic. Although bumblebee species are assumed to have

Scenery at Toolik Fiels Station (Nicolas Brasero).

Conservation status 9% 10 %

data deficient expanding
of the 68 European
bumblebee species
(From Rasmont, Roberts
& Michez, 2014).
46 % 35 %
regressing stable

a pan-Arctic distribution, this had not

been verified. Thus, we went to the Toolik Field Station (• 48),
in the Alaskan Arctic, to collect bumblebees from a part of the
Arctic that has not been explored (with respect to bees).


Of the five Alpinobombus species that are thought to occur
in Alaska, we were able to collect multiple individuals of three
species at Toolik Field Station (see the table below). We also
collected numerous individuals (264) of other sub-genera of
bumblebees, for a total of 10 species (see the table below).
This is a very high diversity of bees in such a small area. Two
species that we collected (Bombus hyperboreus and B. polaris)
have the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature)
status of “vulnerable” in Europe. These bees will greatly expand Distribution map of some European Arctic and Arctic-alpine
our knowledge of bee diversity and the genetic, chemical and Alpinobombus (bumblebee) species: Red dots: records
morphological characteristics of these species across the Arctic. before 1950, yellow dots: records from1950 to 1990; green
dots: records since 1990 (From Rasmont and others 2015).
It is generally assumed that Arctic bumblebee species occur
throughout the entire circumpolar Arctic. Thus, a species that
is endangered in one part of the Arctic could theoretically find
a refuge in another part. However, the distinction between
Arctic bumblebee species is presently based largely on mor-
(a) (b)
phological characters, and it is possible that there may be a lot
of genetic variation between individual local populations in (a) Bombus hyperboreus and (b) Bombus jonellus (Pierre Rasmont).
the Arctic. This could change our concepts of what units (spe-
cies vs. populations) are appropriate for conservation. Our Taxa Collecting sites Males Females
work will allow us to distinguish between these alternatives, Bombus hyperboreus Toolik Field Station 4 0
and assist in international bee conservation. Bombus neoboreus Toolik Field Station 13 0 5
Bombus polaris Toolik Field Station 27 3 •
THE ADVENTURE Bombus rufocinctus Toolik Field Station 1 0 4
Two Belgian guys (Nicolas and Baptiste) working on the sys- Bombus centralis Fairbanks 8 1
Bombus flavifrons Toolik Field Station 5 5
tematics and ecology of bumblebees in the Zoology Labora-
Bombus jonellus Toolik Field Station 50 35
tory of the University of Mons in Belgium flew for more than
Bombus melanopygus Toolik Field Station 5 0
15 hours from Brussels via Chicago and Anchorage. The cold Bombus sylvicola Toolik Field Station 68 37
and windy weather reminded us that we were in Alaska. Bombus flavidus Toolik Field Station 2 0
After few hours, a pickup took us to the Toolik Field Station.
TOTAL: 264
The landscape was awesome, nothing on the horizon except
Bumblebees collected near Toolik Field Station, Alaska in
the distant mountains and Arctic tundra out of sight. At the
summer 2014.
Toolik Field Station we were warmly welcomed by Chad Dies-
inger, the facility supervisor. It was really impressive to see the
logistics (accommodation, food, equipment) of this isolated Further information
station. The ambiance and work atmosphere of the station Baptiste Martinet1, Nicolas Brasero1, Pierre Rasmont1 &
were very nice, a well-organized community in the middle of Syndonia Bret-Harte2
University of Mons, Belgium, 2 University of Alaska Fairbanks, USA

The most annoying and discomforting thing was the presence Rasmont, P., Franzen, M., Lecocq, T. and others 2015. Climatic
of lots of mosquitoes everywhere surrounding the station, Risk and Distribution Atlas of European Bumblebees. Sofia:
which was surprising for August. But what would we not do to Pensoft, 236p.
help science progress!

Is rodent-borne Ljungan

virus responsible for

mortality in migrating
Norwegian lemmings
(Lemmus lemmus)?

Heidi C. Hauffe, Cristina Fevola, Chiara Rossi,

Annapaola Rizzoli, Jukka Niemimaa & Heikki Henttonen
Trapping site near the Kilpisjärvi Biological Station. As the
snow drifts melt, the lemmings must move quickly to find
new cover and sources of food (Heidi C. Hauffe).

causes pathologies in the rodent itself, this virus may also have
an effect on rodent ecology. Consequently, knowledge of the
presence and effect of LV among wild mammal species is also
crucial for estimating its potential role as a rodent pathogen.

As part of the EU FP7 project EDENext (, tis-

sue samples are currently being collected by us from rodents
across the EU, and ongoing molecular and serological studies
suggest that LV has a wide geographical and host distribution,
including species that live in close contact with humans (e.g.
A Norwegian lemming in a defensive pose. Perhaps
house mice). However, at the time of the INTERACT Transna-
unsurprisingly, with nowhere to hide, and cornered in
unfamiliar territory, these small mammals can be quite
tional access Call in 2010, the role of LV in lemmings and in
aggressive (Heikki Henttonen). lemming cycles had not been examined. Norwegian lemmings
(Lemmus lemmus) are typical rodents of the alpine mountain
regions of Fennoscandia (Norway, Sweden and Finland), and
In 1998, a new virus was isolated in wild populations of bank their numbers show extreme fluctuations. When the snow
voles (Myodes glareolus) in Sweden. The suspected pathogen melts in the spring, lemmings must move to find new habi-
5 was named the “Ljungan virus” (LV), after the river near the site tat; these movements become longer distance “migrations”
• of its discovery. Later, it was also detected in voles in the United at high densities (Henttonen and Kaikusalo 1993). In contrast,
5 States and Denmark, and more recently in the UK and Italy. autumn migration is density dependent, and due mainly to
social factors. Migrating lemmings can easily be spotted run-
Interest in LV stems from reports that this virus may be associ- ning in all directions, and during particularly high peaks thou-
ated with human fetal death and malformations. Some authors sands of corpses litter the landscape and roads. At these very
maintain that LV should be considered a potential zoonotic high densities, migrating lemmings can be seen for several
agent (i.e. a pathogen carried by wild animals that can infect months.
and cause disease in humans), while others are distinctly more
skeptical. Recent optimization and testing of a serological One factor that may affect the survival of these individuals
technique using LV-positive rodent samples show that humans at such high densities is pathogens. Therefore, since LV was
can apparently be infected with LV, or an LV-type virus, but its known to have a greater effect on stressed individuals, and
ability to cause symptoms has not been definitively proven, and migrating lemmings are under considerable stress, this pro-
species-specificity has not been investigated. ject aimed at studying whether LV is responsible for the high
death rate of lemmings during these dispersal events.


Since the bank vole and other rodents could act as reservoirs The year 2011 was a particularly fortuitous year to study this
of LV, knowledge of LV’s geographical and host range is nec- phenomenon, since a strong cycle (with a high lemming den-
essary to assess its potential importance as a human patho- sity) was predicted. Therefore, we visited the Kilpisjärvi Bio-
gen and to identify possible zoonotic reservoirs. On the other logical Station (• 12) in Finnish Lapland to participate in the
hand, because LV is one of the only rodent-borne viruses that annual trapping of small mammals during the peak of the

A Norwegian lemming (Lemmus lemmus), intent on A Norwegian lemming (Lemmus lemmus) resting among the
finding new habitat (Helena C. Olandi). tangled twigs of the forest floor during his exhausting quest to
find food and shelter after the snow melt (Annapaola Rizzoli).

lemming migration in May 2011 in order to collect sam- WHY ARE THE RESULTS IMPORTANT?
ples for screening LV. We chose the Kilpisjärvi Biological Although the role of LV in lemming cycles seems improbable, the
Station because annual trapping of small mammals has samples collected during this field trip have added to our knowl-
been carried out there for many decades; therefore, we edge of the geographical and host distribution of LV. The samples
were confident that we would successfully trap enough will also be used for further studies on the virus, including estimates
individuals for our study. of genetic variability, which are essential for the future develop-
ment of a vaccine, should this prove necessary.
Over the six days of trapping at the station, we trapped THE ADVENTURE
over 100 lemmings: 72 of these individuals were dis- The opportunity to work at the Kilpisjärvi Biological Station could
sected, and liver samples were couriered on dry ice to the not have come at a better time for consolidating our collaboration
Fondazione E. Mach in Italy for molecular screening of LV with experienced Finnish researchers and ensuring completion of
(i.e. we used genetic methods to detect whether LV was a critical joint project only possible where there are Arctic rodent
present in liver tissue). In addition, lemming samples col- populations. The Station was exceptionally clean and well-organ-
lected at Kilpisjärvi from June and September 2011 were ized, and the efficient and enthusiastic staff made sure we lost no
added to the screening, as well as samples from other time in settling in, so that we were out trapping on the very first
small mammal species from another long-term trapping day. On a personal level, to experience first hand the extraordinary
area at Pallasjärvi trapped in the same year. beauty and biodiversity at the “top of the world” was a dream of 5
a lifetime. •
Our laboratory analyses showed that only two out of 122 Further information
Norwegian lemmings at Kilpisjärvi were positive for LV, Heidi C. Hauffe1, Cristina Fevola1, Chiara Rossi1, Annapaola Rizzoli1,
both of these trapped after the spring migration in the Jukka Niemimaa2 & Heikki Henttonen2
summer and autumn of 2011. Therefore, it seems unlikely Department of Biodiversity and Molecular Ecology,

Research and Innovation Centre, Fondazione Edmund Mach, Italy

that LV is responsible for the mortality of lemmings at high Natural Resources Institute, Finland

densities. However, our investigations are ongoing, and

we are currently screening lemmings caught before the Contact:
peak and found dead during the peak to make sure we
have the full story. Interestingly, however, we also found Greene McDonald, A. 2009. Ljungan virus: an emerging zoonosis?
Clinical Microbiology Newsletter 31:177-82.
that LV infects most vole species in the rodent community, Henttonen, H. and Kaikusalo, A. 1993. Lemming movements. In: Sten-
including the bank vole (5 out of 21 LV-positive); the field seth, N.C. and Ims, R.A. (eds), The Biology of Lemmings. Academic
vole (Microtus agrestis: 4 of 29 LV-positive); the northern Press for the Linnean Society of London, pp 157-186.
red-backed vole (Myodes rutilus: 2 of 15 LV-positive); and Niklasson, B., Nyholm, E., Feinstein, R.E. and others 2006. Diabetes and
the grey-sided vole (M. rufocanus; 1 of 23 LV-positive), as myocarditis in voles and lemmings at cyclic peak densities-induced
by Ljungan virus? Oecologia 150: 1-7.
well as another lemming species (wood lemming, Myo- Samsioe, A., Papadogiannakis, N., Hultman, T. and others 2009. Ljun-
pus schistocolor: 3 of 12 LV-positive), confirming our wider gan virus present in intrauterine fetal death diagnosed by both
studies that the bank vole is probably the main reservoir immunohistochemistry and PCR. Birth Defects Research (Part A)
of LV. Also, for the first time, we detected LV in the tundra 85:227-9. Catalogued as manuscript EDENext272.
vole (M. oeconomus: 1 of 6 LV-positive).

High Arctic food webs

The Zackenberg station offers excellent logistics in

Northeast Greenland. The station is located in the
biggest national park created to date, in one of the
Tomas Roslin
largest uninhabited regions on the Globe (Tomas Roslin).

The Arctic is changing fast. This will affect individual species

– but perhaps even more importantly, it may modify how
these species interact with each other. A change in one spe-
cies may result in a change in other organisms (species), and
in the overall functioning of the system.

AIMS OF THE PROJECT (to do so in more biologically diverse parts of the Globe would
Our ambitious aim was to measure and describe a full net- be next to impossible).
work of biotic (i.e. living) interactions for a high-Arctic area. We
started by measuring interactions within tightly-knit groups WHAT DID WE FIND?
of closely interacting species, and then worked our way When examined in detail, one of the presumed simplest inter-
towards the overall structure of the web. action webs on the globe proved far more complex than pre-
viously thought. Our findings thus upset the century-old myth
WHAT DID WE DO? of the Arctic as being characterized by simple interactions and
To detect who interacts with whom, we supplemented tra- simple food webs. Working with the limited species richness
ditional approaches (like observing what animal visits what of the Arctic also allowed us to renew the methods of food
flower or who is chewing on whom) by modern molecular web research. By applying new techniques, we tripled the
tools. Thus, we recorded DNA sequences for almost all visible number of links detected within the mesh, and showed that
species of our study area and we can now identify them from how you search will have a major impact on what you find.
nearly any remains, including scats (faeces) or gut contents. To These insights from the Arctic can now be transferred to the
achieve this coverage of the local flora and fauna, we crawled more species-rich parts of the Globe.
on all four through the low vegetation, and used a large vari-
ety of traps, nets and other collection methods to get at even WHY ARE THE RESULTS IMPORTANT?
the smallest inhabitants of the tundra. What our findings really mean is that even in the far North,
organisms affect each other in myriads of ways. Where the
WHERE DID WE WORK? traditional view has been “each species on its own under a
5 We worked at the Zackenberg Research Station (• 70) in North- harsh Arctic climate”, we described an Arctic buzzing with life,
• east Greenland. This INTERACT station is situated within the where organisms interact intensively with each other. Only
6 largest national park of the world, providing excellent facili- by appreciating how species are tied together may we then
ties in a remote and otherwise inaccessible region. The species understand how a change in one species leads to a change in
richness of this area is conveniently low, which allowed us to another – and into changes in the overall functioning of the
actually find most species and keep track of their interactions ecosystem.

A trophic interaction of the far North: Its offspring then spends nearly a Parasitism causes the final cocoon
The female of the Arctic Woollybear decade as a larva. During this time, to produce not a new moth, but flies
(Gynaephora groenlandica) is a poor many individuals are attacked by (opened cocoon with fly maggots and a
flyer, and frequently mates on the top of parasitic flies (Juha Syväranta). fly puparium) (Tomas Roslin).
its cocoon (Juha Syväranta).

Most of our efforts were targeted at the smallest animals (like
insects and spiders), as they are both the most species-rich
and abundant parts of the local fauna. This did not preclude
encounters with larger wildlife. We had muskoxen trampling
through our plots, Arctic foxes peeing in our pitfall cups and
polar bears wrecking our insect traps – in each case forcing
instant replacement. 148 bp

To understand who eats whom within the food web of

Zackenberg, we have used both traditional techniques
and modern molecular tools. This picture shows how
different methods may be used to resolve one and the same
interaction type: To establish what parasitic wasps and flies
attack what caterpillars, one may either rear parasitoids from
host caterpillars (left), or selectively sequence DNA from
the gut contents of adult parasites (revealing whom they
ate as larvae; left in graphics) or from laval parasites within
larval hosts (revealing who is eating them right now; right in
graphics). In the lower part of the picture, the colourful bands
represent the DNA sequence recovered (with one colour for
each of the four bases of DNA). By working our way through
To create a reference library of DNA sequences for the full the local flora and fauna, we have established a molecular
flora of Zackenberg, we have collected nearly every plant “barcode” offering unequivocal identification of each species
species of the area. A small piece of leaf tissue will suffice for in the area, regardless of its developmental stage
the job (Riikka Kaartinen). (Gergely Várkonyi (a) and Helena Wirta (b).

Further information
Tomas Roslin
Spatial Foodweb Ecology Group, University of Helsinki, Finland


Roslin, T., Wirta, H., Hopkins, T. and others 2013. Indirect interac- 5
tions in the High Arctic. PLoS ONE 8(6): DOI: 10.1371/journal. •
pone.0067367. 6
Várkonyi, G. and Roslin, T. 2013. Freezing cold yet diverse – dis-
secting a High-Arctic parasitoid community associated with
lepidopteran hosts. The Canadian Entomologist, special issue
Visakorpi, K.V., Wirta, H.K., Ek, M. and others 2015. No detectable
trophic cascade in a high-Arctic arthropod food web. Basic and
Applied Ecology. DOI:10.1016/j.baae.2015.06.003.
Wirta, H.K., Vesterinen, E.J., Hambäck, P.A. and others 2015. Expos-
ing the structure of an Arctic food web. Ecology and Evolution
Wirta, H.K., Hebert, P.D.N., Kaartinen, R.P. and others 2014. Com-
plementary molecular information changes our perception of
food web structure. PNAS 111:1885-1890.
Wirta, H.K., Weingartner, E., Hambäck, P.A. and Roslin, T. 2015.
Extensive niche overlap among the dominant arthropod pred-
ators of the High Arctic. Basic and Applied Ecology 16:86-98.

To explore the effect of spider predation

on other arthropods we have used large
corrals to either elevate or reduce local change-view-structure-of-nature-012114/
spider densities (Tomas Roslin).

How predator-prey interactions impact distribution

and breeding systems of high Arctic waders

under current climate change
Jeroen Reneerkens

A young lemming peaking out of its burrow in Hochstetter Arctic fox at Hochstetter Forland (Jeroen Reneerkens).
Forland (Jeroen Reneerkens).

Lemmings, Arctic rodents well-known for

their impressive cyclical abundance, play an A sanderling in Zackenberg
important role in the food web of the tun- brooding its chicks
dra. As a consequence of climate change, the (Jeroen Reneerkens).
high-amplitude cyclic population change of
lemmings is increasingly disturbed. This will
affect the entire Arctic food web, because
predators relying on lemmings are expected
to switch to alternative prey.



AIMS OF THE PROJECT Daily survival

Daily clutch survival (probability)

We wanted to describe differences in time and space in 0.96 probability
survival of clutches of Sanderlings, a common high Arctic of sanderling
migratory bird, and relate this to the local abundance of 0.92 clutches
lemmings and their predators. increased with
the progressing
0.84 summer. Day of
year 160 = 9 June.
We monitored the daily survival of sanderling clutches 0.80
using small temperature loggers in their nest cups. Also, 160 170 180 190 200 210
Day of year
we measured the growth and survival of Sanderling
chicks in relation to their date of hatch within the season;
early, during the peak of hatch or late in the season. 1.00

Daily clutch survival (probability)

2011 2012 2013
We worked at Zackenberg Research Station (• 70) as the 0.96
main field site and collaborated also with people at Karu-
pelv Valley and Hochstetter Forland in Northeast Green-
land. The number of lemmings and their predators differ 0.92
between these three locations, allowing useful compari-
sons while the density of bird nests is high. Karupelv Zackenberg Hochstetter


Nest predation is highest early in the season, probably
because it is easier for predators to find nests on the small Daily survival of sanderling clutches
snow-free area in early June compared to July when most in nests in three years of study at
snow has melted. The density of lemmings did not dif- three locations (Karupelv Valley,
fer as much as expected between the three study sites, Zackenberg and Hochstetter Forland)
but predation of clutches differed between sites because in Northeast Greenland in the
summers 2011-2013.
of differences in number of predators. The differences
between sites were most pronounced in 2013, when Locations where sanderlings marked
there were hardly any lemmings at Karupelv Valley, result- in Northeast Greenland were observed
ing in Arctic foxes eating many sanderling clutches, while outside the Arctic, indicating that changes
there were a lot of lemmings in Zackenberg and espe- in the Arctic can potentially affect bird
cially Hochstetter Forland, where Sanderlings indeed had populations in Europe and Africa.
good breeding seasons.

WHY ARE THE RESULTS IMPORTANT? Further information 5

Long-distance migrating birds are declining worldwide Jeroen Reneerkens •
due to habitat loss and other human factors. The altered University of Groningen 7
predator-prey interactions in the Arctic food webs come Chair in Global Flyway Ecology, Animal Ecology Group, Groningen
Institute for Evolutionary Life Sciences, University of Groningen
on top of this and will have further consequences for Arc- (GELIFES)
tic bird populations. P.O. Box 11103, 9700 CC Groningen, The Netherlands


We had planned to visit a sanderling nest found earlier,
Reneerkens, J., Benhoussa, A., Boland, H. and others 2009. Sand-
but on our way we found two new nests. It took us some erlings using African – Eurasian flyways : a review of current
time to catch the breeding birds during which the station knowledge. Wader Study Group Bulletin 116:2-20.
manager radioed that a polar bear was close to the sta- Reneerkens, J., Grond, K., Schekkerman, H. and others 2011. Do
tion. The bear turned out to be at the location of the nest uniparental sanderlings Calidris alba increase egg heat input to
that we had initially planned to visit. After our work we compensate for low nest attentiveness? PLoS One 6(2):e16834,
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0016834.
were able to safely see the bear from a distance, but how Reneerkens, J., van Veelen, P., van der Velde, M. and others 2014.
close an encounter with this animal would we have had if Within-population variation in mating system and parental
we had not found those two new nests? care patterns in the Sanderling (Calidris alba) in northeast
Greenland. Auk Ornithological Advances 131:235-247.

Videos of the fieldwork can be seen at: www.vogelbescherming.


6 Life in
cold waters

Warwick F. Vincent & Riku Paavola

Freshwater environments are so abundant in the North that

the Arctic is sometimes thought of as a vast circumpolar wet-
land (Kling 2009), and when seen on maps or from the air,
some parts of the Arctic landscape seem like an archipelago
of islands in a freshwater sea (Figure 6.1). An analysis of the
distribution of the world’s lakes by area shows that the vast
majority of waterbodies greater than 0.1 km2 occurs on north-
ern permafrost catchments and collectively totals more than
300,000 km2 (Grosse and others 2013). However, it is not only
the abundance of freshwater that has captured the interest
and imagination of limnologists (scientists who study inland
waters), but it is also the diversity of these northern ecosys-
tems (Figures 6.2 and 6.3) and their importance as habitats for
aquatic life.

Oulanka River, running nearby

the Oulanka Research Station (• 17),
Northeast Finland (Riku Paavola).


Figure 6.1  Lakes abound in the North and many, such as these near Umiujaq, sub-Arctic Canada, are affected by rapidly thawing
permafrost (Warwick F. Vincent).

Figure 6.2  There is a great diversity of freshwater systems Figure 6.3  Lake Hazen, the deepest lake in the Canadian
in the Arctic. The photo shows a glaciated rock-basin lake in high Arctic (Warwick F. Vincent).
Nunavik, sub-Arctic Canada (Warwick F. Vincent).

High latitude lakes also have broader global significance as

sentinels as well as integrators of environmental change, and
for this reason they are important sites for the study of climate
fluctuations in the past by analysis of the preserved remains
of plants, animals and microbes in their sediments (the study
of palaeolimnology), as well as for monitoring climate warming
and other changes that are taking place in the present at local,
regional and planetary scales (Williamson and others 2009).
Some northern freshwaters also affect adjacent ecosystems;
for example the large Arctic rivers discharge massive quantities
of water, solutes, particulate materials and heat into the Arctic
Ocean; the large lakes of the North affect the thermal regime
of their surrounding watershed; and thermokarst lakes (formed
when permafrost thaws: see Sections 1 and 3 for lake forma-
tion and drainage) and wetlands (areas of seasonally water
logged soils) may emit globally significant quantities of green-
house gases into the atmosphere (Vincent and others 2013).

Northern freshwaters are of special significance to the people

who live and work in the North, and whose health, cultural
well-being and economic prosperity depend on these vital
resources. Arctic and sub-Arctic waters provide many essential
geosystem and ecosystem services for municipalities, indus-
tries and (increasingly) agriculture. These services include
drinking water supplies, hydroelectricity, waste disposal and
treatment systems, water for mining activities and resource
extraction, transport routes (including the extensive networks
of river and lake ice-roads in North America and Russia), tra-
ditional and recreational fisheries, and habitats for water fowl
that are traditionally hunted such as ducks and geese. These Figure 6.4  Drilling through lake ice on northern Ellesmere
economic, societal and cultural values are also setting many of Island in the Canadian high Arctic, near the CEN Ward Hunt
the research priorities in parts of the circumpolar North such Island Research Station (• 55) (Warwick F. Vincent ).
as northern Canada.
have proven to be especially informative given their enor-
In this section we introduce some of the current themes and mous species diversity. By establishing relationships between
questions in northern freshwater research, including projects the composition of modern diatom communities and the
taking place through the INTERACT network of terrestrial environment, models can be applied to convert the species
field stations. We draw upon recent results about the physi- composition of a fossil diatom assemblage into quantitative
cal, biogeochemical and biological characteristics of high lati- estimates of past conditions such as temperature, pH, phos-
tude aquatic ecosystems, including reference to a subsample phorus, dissolved organic carbon or even underwater UV
of INTERACT supported projects that are described in more radiation. A wide range of chemical constituents are also often
detail below. analyzed including stable isotopes of carbon and nitrogen,
heavy metals and other pollutants.
The bottom sediments of northern lakes provide a rich The application of these palaeolimnological approaches has
storehouse of information that can be used to describe and provided insights into lake development and ice cover, veg-
understand past variations in the environment (Hodgson and etation dynamics, climate and sea level change, fish and wild- 6
Smol 2008: see also Section 1). Many types of sediment cor- life shifts, and the magnitude of local and long range pollution
ers are available for sampling lake sediments from a boat or (Hodgson and Smol 2008). In the INTERACT project of Long
through a hole in the lake ice (Figure 6.4), and the resultant and others (Science Story 6.1), sediment cores were taken
core samples can be split into sections, dated with 14C and from lakes at a site near the margin of the Greenland Ice Sheet
Pb (radio-isotopes of carbon and lead), or other techniques, to analyze variations in temperature over the last 6,000 years.
and the environmental proxies then analysed in each section A complementary INTERACT project by McGowan and others
to reconstruct past conditions (Figure 6.5). Diverse microfos- (Science Story 6.2) is examining sediment cores from lakes at
sils are routinely measured in northern lake sediments by this Disko Bay, Greenland, to reconstruct lake and catchment pro-
palaeo­limnological approach, including fossil diatoms (algae cesses during periods of warming and cooling over the last
with silica walls), larval insect remains and pollen. Diatoms few thousand years.


Fgure 6.5  Left: paleolimnological analysis of a sediment core, for example from a thaw pond pond formed by a degrading palsa
(permafrost mound) near the CEN Whapmagoostui-Kuujjuarapik Research Station (• 61), sub-Arctic Canada. The core (middle)
is split into sections and each section is then dated based on its radiocarbon (14C) content. The different chemical and biological
analyses (right) of these sections then provide information about historical changes in different features of the lake and its
surrounding environment. Modified by Hannele Heikkilä-Tuomaala from Berglund and others 1996 (Warwick F. Vincent and Reinhard Pienitz).

Figure 6.6  Lake A in the Canadian high Arctic near the CEN Ward Hunt Island Research Station (• 55). The lake had lost its
perennial ice cover after a summer of record warming (August 2008) (Warwick F. Vincent).

(a) (b)

(c) (d)

Figure 6.7  Thawing permafrost resulting from experimental accumulation of snow (a) creates moist depressions and eventually
thermokarst ponds (b) in the Swedish sub-Arctic. In contrast, in other areas ponds are draining and evaporating, for example on
Disko Island, West Greenland between 1970 (c) and 2009 (d). (a) Margareta Johansson, (b and d) Torben. R. Christensen, (c) Terry V. Callaghan.

LAKE AND RIVER ICE Ward Hunt Island Research Station (• 55) in the Canadian high
Prolonged ice-cover and persistent low temperatures are Arctic, the summer ice cover has thinned from >4 m to com-
major features of all high latitude waters, and these proper- plete melt out over the last 60 years (Paquette and others
ties influence the structure and productivity of their biological 2015). Many questions remain about how changes in ice cover
communities (Prowse and others 2011). The aquatic biota of affect the functioning of Arctic aquatic ecosystems, and these
these habitats must therefore be adapted to cold water condi- will be an important focus of limnological research.
tions for growth and reproduction, and to the highly seasonal
availability of solar radiation, from continuous darkness in GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS
winter to continuous sunlight in summer. The thick ice-cover Throughout the circumpolar Arctic, there is a major effort to
greatly affects the availability of light for underwater photo- understand the chemicals in northern lake waters, and the
synthesis, and also influences many other important features biological and mineral (geochemical, geophysical) processes
of the lake such as mixing of water layers and oxygen levels that regulate them. One of the reasons for this intense interest 6
(Section 4). Several projects at INTERACT stations have exam- in the chemical nature of northern lakes is their production
ined changes in lake ice cover in the past and present, and of greenhouse gases (Section 4). This is especially the case
long-term records are now available at some locations; e.g., for thermokarst lakes and ponds (small, shallow waterbod-
>100 years for Lake Torneträsk at Abisko, Sweden. At many ies) that form by the thawing and erosion of permafrost land-
locations, ice cover is now decreasing in thickness and dura- scapes (Figure 6.7a) and ponds that drain (Figure 6.7c). Work
tion as a result of climate warming (Figure 6.6). For example, throughout the North has shown that these waters are bio-
in the River Oulakajjoki near Oulanka Research Station (• 17), geochemical hotspots on the tundra, converting soil organic
Finland, there has been a reduction of ice cover by about 3 carbon (Science Story 6.3) to carbon dioxide and methane
weeks in recent years (R. Paavola, unpublished data), and at that are then released to the atmosphere (Vincent and others
Ward Hunt Lake near INTERACT’s most northern station (CEN 2013). Many questions remain, for example about the role of


Figure 6.8  There is great inter-connectedness through food webs in Arctic lakes (left) and ponds (right). Deep lakes support
fish but shallow ponds that freeze to the bottom in winter cannot. The primary production in the freshwaters even eventually
supports wildlife on land (Modified by Hannele Heikkilä-Tuomaala from ACIA, 2005).

oxygen in controlling the net emission of methane, and con- generating important insights into how pollutants are broken
cerning the seasonal, interannual and long-term variations in down and detoxified in natural waters. In the INTERACT study
the abundance and activity of these microbe-rich ecosystems. by Michaud and others (Science Story 6.4), microbial DNA
techniques were applied to sediments affected by the Pasvik
CHARISMATIC MICROFLORA River, the largest river system in northern Fennoscandia. These
One of the rapidly emerging frontiers in polar ecology is the analyses revealed the presence of bacteria capable of degrad-
biodiversity and function of microbial communities. It has long ing polychlorinated biphenyls, a major class of potentially haz-
been known that microbes are abundant and play key roles ardous persistent organic pollutants.
in the ecosystem, including primary production, control of gas
fluxes and nutrient recycling, but it is only recently that micro- Cyanobacteria (“blue-green algae”) (Figure 6.9) are a microbial
biologists have become equipped with the necessary tools group of special interest in the Polar Regions because they
to address basic ecological questions such as: what types of often constitute a large fraction of the total biomass in fresh-
6 microscopic life are present, how are they distributed, what water ecosystems in both the Arctic and Antarctica, and many
is their function, and how do they respond to environmen- are nitrogen (N2)-fixers, bringing new nitrogen into the ecosys-
tal change? Many of these questions are being answered by tem. These organisms tolerate a wide range of conditions of
using new tools that are derived from breakthroughs in medi- water availability, including short-term fluctuations, and they
cal technologies, for example based on DNA analysis, and therefore also thrive in semi-aquatic habitats and intermittent
these approaches are now being applied with enormous suc- flow regimes such as water tracks (Steven and others 2013).
cess to aquatic environments throughout the world, including In the terrestrial environment, cyanobacteria are found on
northern freshwaters. The result is that we are now entering and even within rocks, and they occur over polar desert soils
an exciting new era of deep insights into the life support struc- as biological crusts. The nature of these cyanobacterial com-
tures that underpin Arctic aquatic food webs (Figure 6.8) and munities, their photosynthetic activity and their influence on
ecosystems (Lovejoy 2013). Molecular approaches are also Arctic soil formation are the subjects of the project by Ventura

and others (Science Story 6.5), and sampling has taken place
in a wide range of high latitude environments of different
degrees of water availability. Cyanobacteria are also the focus
of the project by Sabbe and others (Science Story 6.6), who
visited Greenland to sample the prolific cyanobacterial bio-
films that coat the bottom of Arctic lakes and to compare with
similar biofilms from Antarctic lakes.

When the Swiss natural historian François Forel founded the
science of limnology at Lake Geneva in the 19th century, he
described the inter-connectedness of all components of the
ecosystem (Figure 6.8). One such component that he drew 6
attention to was the underwater plant life distributed across
the bottom of lakes, especially in the near-shore zone. He
noted that some of these plant communities grew on the lake
floor in such great profusion that “they form true underwater
forests, as picturesque, mysterious and attractive as the most
beautiful forests of our mountains” (Forel 1904). In northern
lakes, mosses are often an important component of these
Figure 6.9  Photomicrograph of a nitrogen-fixing “underwater forests”, ranging from extensive Sphagnum bog
cyanobacterium (Nostoc colony) from the Canadian high communities in shallow waters and wetlands in the sub-Arc-
Arctic (Warwick F. Vincent). tic, to slow growing but prolific moss stands in the deep cold

waters of high Arctic lakes. Semi-aquatic plants such as Carex COLD-LOVING ANIMALS

and Eriophorum are important elements of the tundra veg- Many species of invertebrates and vertebrates thrive within
etation, and play biogeochemical as well as ecological roles, the cold waters of northern aquatic ecosystems, and their
for example as methane conduits from the sediments to the vulnerability to warming is a source of increasing concern.
atmosphere. Work at INTERACT stations has especially focused on insects,
zooplankton and wetland birds (Figure 6.10), but research on
Forel (1904) noted with some alarm the arrival of the Canadian freshwater fish (Figure 6.11) and aquatic mammals, including
water weed Elodea canadensis in Lake Geneva, and its “exuber- freshwater seals, are also the subjects of ongoing projects.
ant and frightening expansion” throughout the lake. Unfortu- There are large uncertainties about how these animals will
nately, this invasive species is now also well established in Fin- respond to increased temperatures in the future, with some
land where its growth has proven difficult to manage (Huotari species likely to move further northwards, while others may
and others 2011), and the sub-Arctic lakes of Fennoscandia may be driven to extinction by physiological stress and competi-
be increasingly prone to invasion by this species. The ecological tion by invading species from the South. For example, stone
impacts of invasive plants and animals will likely be important flies (Plecoptera) prefer cold water streams and unlike many
themes of aquatic research in the future as the lake and river taxa, their species richness increases with latitude (Palma
environments continue to warm and temperate species move and Figueroa 2008). They may therefore be prone to warm-
northward, aided by increased human activity and transport. ing, although this may be offset in part by increased terres-

Figure 6.10  Greater snow goose near the CEN Bylot Island Figure 6.11  Arctic char caught at lac Laflamme in sub-Arctic
Field Station (• 56). The wetlands in this region have the Canada (Reinhard Pienitz).
largest breeding colony of this species in the Canadian
high Arctic (Nicolas Bradette).

Key messages and needs for further research
trial vegetation and leaf litter as
„„ From microbes to fish and waterfowl, northern lakes and rivers contain many

a food source. Arctic Char (Salve- cold-dwelling species of great biological, ecological and resource use inter-
linus namaycush) (Figure 6.11), est.
a member of the salmon fam- „„ These aquatic environments are biogeochemical reactors that convert tun-
ily, is nutritionally and culturally dra carbon to greenhouse gases, and they are sentinels and integrators of
important to Inuit communities, environmental change in the past and present.
and is a cold-adapted fish species „„ Arctic freshwaters are also a vitally important resource for northern indig-
that is restricted to low tempera- enous communities.
ture, highly oxygenated waters. „„ Given the abundance of these ecosystems, their wide ranging importance,
Increased lake production and
and the many questions that relate to them, freshwater ecology will con-
food availability could stimulate
tinue to be a major research focus well into the future, particularly as these
the growth of this species, but
changes in temperature, oxy-
northern waters continue to respond to the warming Arctic environment.
gen and migration patterns may
counter such effects (Power and
others 2008).
Further information and references
Warwick F. Vincent1 & Riku Paavola2
Centre for Northern Studies (CEN), Takuvik and Département de biologie, Université Laval,
Québec, QC G1V 0A6, Canada
Oulanka Research Station, University of Oulu, Kuusamo, Finland.


ACIA 2005. Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, Oslo, Norway, 1042 pp.
Berglund, B.E., Barnekow, L., Hammarlund, D. and others 1996. Holocene forest dynamics and cli-
mate changes in the Abisko area, northern Sweden – the Sonesson model of vegetation history
reconsidered and confirmed. Ecological Bulletins, 45:15-30.
Forel, F.A. 1904. Le Léman – Monographie Limnologique. Editions Rouge Lausanne, Tome III, 715
Grosse, G., Jones, B. and Arp, C. 2013. Thermokarst lakes, drainage, and drained basins, in: Shroder,
J., Giardino, R. and Harbor, J. (eds). Treatise on Geomorphology. Academic Press, San Diego, pp.
Hodgson, D.A. and Smol, J.P. 2008. High-latitude paleolimnology, in: W.F. Vincent and J. Lay-
bourn-Parry (eds) Polar Lakes and Rivers – Limnology of Arctic and Antarctic Aquatic Ecosys-
tems, Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp. 43-64.
Huotari, T., Korpelainen, H., Leskinen, E. and Kostamo, K. 2011. Population genetics of the invasive
water weed Elodea canadensis in Finnish waterways. Plant Systematics and Evolution, 294:27-37.
Kling, G.W. 2009. Lakes of the Arctic. In: Likens, G.E. (ed) Encyclopedia of Inland Waters vol. 2, Else-
vier, Oxford, U.K., pp. 577-588.
Lovejoy, C. 2013. Microorganisms (Chapter 11), in: Meltofte, H. (ed) Arctic Biodiversity Assessment:
Status and Trends in Arctic Biodiversity. Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna, Akureyri, Ice-
land, pp. 372-382.
Palma, A. and Figueroa, R. 2008. Latitudinal diversity of Plecoptera (Insecta) on local and global
scales. Illiesia, 4:81-90.
Paquette, M., Fortier, D., Mueller, D.R. and others 2015. Rapid disappearance of peren-
nial ice on Canada’s most northern lake. Geophysical Research Letters 42:1433-1440,
DOI: 10.1002/2014GL062960
Power, M., Reist, J.D. and Dempson, J.B. 2008. Fish in high-latitude Arctic lakes, in: W.F. Vincent and
J. Laybourn-Parry (eds) Polar Lakes and Rivers – Limnology of Arctic and Antarctic Aquatic Eco- 6
systems, Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp. 249-268.
Prowse, T., Alfredsen, K., Beltaos, S. and others 2011. Effects of changes in arctic lake and river ice.
Ambio 40:63-74.
Steven, B., Kuske, C.R., Lionard, M. and Vincent, W.F. 2013. High bacterial diversity of biological soil
crusts in water tracks over permafrost in the high Arctic polar desert. PLoS ONE 8(8): e71489.
Vincent, W.F., Pienitz, R., Laurion, I. and Walter Anthony, K.M. 2013. Climate impacts on Arctic lakes.
In: Goldman, C.R., Kumagai, M. and Robarts, R.D. (eds). Climatic Change and Global Warming
of Inland Waters: Impacts and Mitigation for Ecosystems and Societies, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd,
Chichester, U.K., pp. 27-42.
Williamson, C.E., Saros, J.E., Vincent, W.F. and Smol, J.P. 2009. Lakes and reservoirs as sentinels, inte-
grators, and regulators of climate change. Limnology and Oceanography 54: 2273-2282.


Reconstructing Holocene
Antony J. Long, Eleanor J. Maddison, P. Helen Ranner
& Sarah A. Woodroffe

Members of the field team collecting a core of

sediment from the bottom of a lake (Sarah Woodroffe).
Our research reconstructs climatic variations through the Holo-
cene (the last 11,700 years of history) from a site located on the
margins of the Greenland Ice Sheet. Our focus is on the South-
west sector of the ice sheet which, at low height and with a shal- AIMS OF THE PROJECT
low slope, is potentially very sensitive to small variations in past Our aim was to use proxies (indicators) of past cli-
and future temperature. Our specific attention is on a time period mate (pollen and non-biting midges) preserved in
that encompasses a change from warmer (known as the “Holo- the sediment deposited on the bed of lakes to infer
cene thermal maximum”) to cooler (the “Neoglacial”) conditions how climate changed 6,000-4,000 years ago.
approximately 6,000-4,000 years ago.
We collected cores of sediment from the bottom of
lakes together with present-day samples of lake–
bottom surface sediment and water. Once back in
Durham University we extracted pollen grains and
non-biting midge remains from the sediment, and
also analysed the water to study its chemical char-
acteristics. We left ten temperature recorders in our
field area that measured air and lake water tem-
peratures for a whole year. Their data meant that
we could relate our present-day lake observations
to prevailing temperatures in our field site. Com-
bining all of our data we have created a model that
we can use to infer past climate change from fos-
sil midge and pollen data extracted from our lake
cores. Finally, we have used radiocarbon dating
techniques to establish the age of our sediments.


We used the facilities at the Greenland Institute of
Natural Resources (• 67) in Nuuk to prepare for our
month long fieldwork. Our field area was located
6 approximately 80 km inland of Nuuk, which we
• accessed using the Institute’s boats. We chose our
1 field area because it is mountainous with many
small lakes at a range of elevations from close to
sea level up to 850 m above sea level. Moreover, the
site’s proximity to the Greenland Ice Sheet makes
it a good location from which to reconstruct past
summer temperatures – which are a key control on
whether the Greenland Ice Sheet grows or melts.

Outdoor field laboratory

for processing collected
water samples
(Eleanor Maddison).

Analysis of our cores has provided us with tempera-
ture reconstructions that cover the last 7,000 years.
Both the pollen and non-biting midge records
indicate that there was a change from a relatively
warm to a cooler climate about 4,000 years ago. We
have associated this transition with some apparent
instability in the climate, suggestive of a “flickering”
state that may be typical of climate systems that are
changing from one state to another.


Reconstructing changes in past climate helps us
to better understand the past climate system and
the potential for future climate change. We think
the switch to cooler conditions is part of a larger
re-organisation of the climate in Greenland and the
Arctic, most probably initiated by reduced incom- Schematic, detailing the pathways used to reconstruct temperature.
ing solar radiation. The change to a cooler climate
at about 4,000 years ago was associated with a sig-
nificant expansion of the Greenland Ice Sheet.

We used boats to travel up the Nuup Kangerlua
fjord in order to reach our remote field area close
to the Greenland Ice Sheet. We spent several weeks
wild camping in beautiful, uninhabited terrain, with
limited communications with the outside world. In
order to collect our samples we used small inflat-
(a) (b)
able boats on the lakes. In the field we had numer-
ous sightings of many wild animals and birds such
Non-biting midge head (a) and birch pollen grain (b) extracted from
as Arctic foxes, hares, caribou and divers.
Greenland lake sediments.

Team members
returning to Nuuk on
one of the Greenland
Institute of Natural
Resources’ boats at the
end of a successful field
season (Robert Barnett). 6

Further information
Antony J. Long1, Eleanor J. Maddison1, P. Helen Ranner2 & Sarah A. Woodroffe1
Department of Geography, Durham University, UK
School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, Durham University, UK

Collecting lake sediment from greenland-part-2/
a coring device (Robert Barnett).

Carbon processing in Arctic lakes

when vegetation changes on land

Suzanne McGowan, Mark Stevenson, Erika Whiteford & Emma Pearson

Lakes and wetlands in the Arctic are

important carbon processing hotspots,
and can function both as carbon stores
(capturing carbon-rich sediments) or car-
bon sources (emitting greenhouse gases
such as carbon dioxide and methane). We
know little of how future climate warming
will influence the balance of these func-
tions. However, it is clear that a warmer
Arctic will have more vegetation growth
on the land and that some permafrost
will thaw (Section 2). Will these factors
increase the transport of carbon from the
land plants into lakes and will lakes emit
more greenhouse gases? If so, this could
significantly increase the total greenhouse
gas flux into the atmosphere.

It takes a long time to find the

deepest part of the lake for
coring. Here we are measuring
the depth of the water from a
6 hole in the ice (Suzanne McGowan).

AIMS OF THE PROJECT of the lake in April 2013. The challenge for this project is to
We aimed to use past climatic episodes of known warmer (the reconstruct lake and catchment processes by measuring what
“Medieval Climate Anomaly, MCA and the “Holocene Thermal is preserved in the mud, and we are attempting this by study-
Maximum”, HTM) and colder (the “Little Ice Age”; LIA) periods ing a suite of biochemical remains. For example, lipids (waxes,
to test how Arctic lake carbon processing changes under dif- fatty acids, carotenoid pigments) can distinguish whether
ferent climatic conditions. carbon was produced inside the lake (for example from algae)
or by catchment vegetation (plants on land). Carbon isotopes
WHAT DID WE DO? and the ratios of carbon relative to nitrogen can also help to
We used lake sediments to record past changes within three identify how the carbon was processed within the lake. To
lakes and catchments on Disko Island in West Greenland. We help with interpreting the lipids, we returned to the lakes that
used a Russian corer (a particular type of sampler) and made summer to assess catchment vegetation cover and take sam-
a hole in the lake ice to take sediment cores from the bottom ples from lake and catchment sources.

We chose Disko Island because it lies at a latitude of 69° N, and
is therefore close to the northern limit of extensive vegetation
development. Therefore we hoped that past climatic changes
would lead to especially pronounced transitions in vegeta-
tion. Given the relatively large climate variability of Disko Bay
in time and space, it is important for paleolimnological studies
to be widespread and cover different time periods. The Arctic
Station (• 66) is very conveniently located within a few hours
snowmobile ride from the sites that we wanted to study.


Radiocarbon dating suggests that one of the sediment core
records (site “Disko 2”) is around 7-8,000 years old, but should
The equipment being transported by snowmobile to site
still encompass the LIA and MCA. There are clear changes in
“Disko 4” overlooking a stunning iceberg-covered bay.
We accessed this site by boat in the summer trip the amount and type of carbon in the sediments, with warmer
(Suzanne McGowan). periods being generally associated with higher carbon con-
tent, possibly deriving from catchment vegetation. The sum-
mer field visits confirmed what we could not see when there
was snow cover – that the lake catchments are sparsely cov-
ered with mossy tundra.


Although we can make predictions about lake carbon pro-
cessing in a warmer Arctic, we lack evidence to justify these
predictions. This work should increase confidence in such
forecasts. The retreat of glaciers will form many new lakes and
it is even more important therefore to understand lake and
wetland processes at high latitudes.

Approaching the field station in a helicopter looking down
at the icebergs in the sea, and squeezed in next to our cor-
ing rods and ice drilling equipment was truly exhilarating.
The snowmobile rides to access the sites whilst towing the
equipment behind us on trailers was a fantastic way to see the
We used a Russian corer which is attached to rods (visible
stunning basaltic landscapes, but access to our final site up
in the photo above). A video of the coring can be seen on an icy slope proved very challenging, splintering one of the
(Suzanne McGowan). trailers as we slid backwards. Fortunately it was nothing that
a bit of skilled driving from our guides could not fix and we
managed to take our samples from the legendary “bottomless
lake”, which turned out to be 7 metres deep! Mark’s return to
the lakes in the summer made us feel grateful for the snow-
mobiles – a tough hike on the boulder fields with plenty of 6
mosquitoes for company. •
Further information
Suzanne McGowan
School of Geography, University of Nottingham, UK

The base of a core from a river-fed lake in Blæsedalen tation-transitions/
(site “Disko 1” at 299 m a.s.l.). The sediment is primarily
gyttja, with bands of aquatic macrofossils and clay
(Mark Stevenson).

Acidity and origin of dissolved organic carbon

in different vegetation zones

Jakub Hruška, Filip Oulehle, Oldřich Myška & Tomáš Chuman

Dissolved organic carbon (DOC) consists dominantly of

humic and fulvic acids originating from incomplete decom-
position of organic matter in soils or wetlands. DOC normally
represents the largest organic matter pool in freshwater sys-
tems. DOC contributes to the acidity of water, and is impor-
tant also for chemical binding of toxic metals (like aluminum
or cadmium) to non-toxic forms . Despite its importance in
global biogeochemical cycles, knowledge of the acidity of
DOC is mostly limited to boreal and temperate regions of the
Northern Hemisphere. The acid/base (acidity) characteristic
of aquatic DOC has been studied intensively during recent
decades to understand the relative contributions of DOC and
man-made pollutants in determining streamwater acidity.
Some studies reported large differences in acid/base proper-
ties, sometimes between quite similar and nearby localities
or between seasons at the same site. Other studies, however,
found similar acid/base properties in waters from a variety of
sites, sometimes far from each other, as well as stable acid/
base properties at the same site through different seasons
or runoff events. It remains an open question as to whether
the differences in published acid/base properties result from
the use of different techniques for organic acid analysis, and A typical view of tundra and
whether there is in fact a significant degree of similarity in the tundra ponds in the Barrow area
acid/base properties of DOC from site to site. (Karl Newyear).

Soil water collection from an ITEX warming experiment at of organic carbon – units µeq/mg DOC ) to resolve if different
Point Barrow, Alaska (Jakub Hruška). biomes produce different types of organic matter.


We collected surface water from lakes as well as shallow soil-
water from climate treatments in tundra ecosystem warming
experiments (ITEX – International Tundra Experiment). Surface
waters were simply collected by polyethylene bottles but for
soilwater sampling we used Rhizon™ samplers. Rhizon consist
of a teflon needle and polyethylen syringe. The teflon tip was
6 evacuated by the syringe and water slowly sucked up into
• the syringe. We sampled each 12 hours during 3 days to have
3 enough water for chemical analyses. Later in the lab, the total
DOC acidity (site density) was determined by titration.


Based on our previous findings and the literature we hypoth- We worked at the Barrow Arctic Research Center (• 47), located
esized that fundamental properties of natural dissolved organic at the northern tip of Alaska (USA) on the Arctic Coastal Plain
matter in freshwaters remain stable across a wide range of north of the Brooks Mountain Range, at the junction of the
biomes (vegetation zones), despite large variations in con- Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. The adjacent Barrow Environmen-
centration, unless ecosystems are perturbed. Our aim was to tal Observatory comprises 30 km2 of tundra, lakes and wet-
investigate DOC acid/base properties from different biomes lands reserved for scientific research. The northern latitudes
(tropical, temperate, boreal and Arctic) and compare their site are important “end members” of ecological conditions on the
density (amount of acidic carboxylic groups carrying humic and Earth and they served as an excellent comparison for more cli-
fulvic acids acidity in microequivalent of protons per milligram matically favorable biomes.

20 Barrow Arctic Research Station
Median 25%-75% Non-outlier range in winter (Chris Arends).
Site density (µeq/mg DOC)





Tundra Temperate Boreal Tropical
forest forest rain forest

Site density (amount of acidic groups of humic and fulvic

acids per milligram DOC) in different biomes. The various
measures of statistical variability show no differences among Large inuit boat, while in
biomes. the whale jawbone arch
is the US medium-duty
(Karl Newyear).
Site density (µeq/mg DOC) from Barrow’s tundra lakes was very
similar to those found in surface waters from the very different
biomes across the Earth. Site density from northern Alaska did
not differ statistically from tropical rain forest in Congo, central
Africa as well as from temperate forest in Central Europe or the
boreal zone of northern Sweden. Despite observed differences
within one site, the median is very similar and varied between
10.4 and 10.7 µeq/mg DOC. This suggests that acid/base prop-
erties of surface water DOC can be very similar across large
regions with very different environmental conditions.


Our previous results suggested similarity between boreal and
temperate regions of Europe (Hruška and others 2003), but
more wide-ranging comparisons had not yet been under- THE ADVENTURE
taken. Thus this project significantly extends present knowl- It was not too hard to reach Barrow as there is an airport and
edge. DOC is an important, but often poorly represented, ele- large planes land there easily, a few times per day. But the
ment of water chemistry simulations using biogeochemical research area where the cold sea covered by ice meets the
models under different climatic and pollution changes. Pro- tundra just a few metres from the coastline was very impres-
viding functional models of acid/base character (general, or sive. Looking over the sea in the direction of the North Pole
for individual ecosystems) and identifying sources of DOC in one can imagine the hard life of people living here for centu-
streams and rivers will improve significantly our ability to pre- ries, hunting whales, snow geese and living in simple cottages
dict water chemistry in response to expected climate change, during cold and dark winters. That was a real adventure, but
recovery from acidification or potential land-use changes. we saw little evidence of that life. 6

Further information
Jakub Hruška, Filip Oulehle, Oldřich Myška & Tomáš Chuman
Czech Geological Survey, Prague and
Global Change Research Centre, Academy of Sciences, Brno,
Czech Republic


Hruška, J., Kohler, S., Laudon, H. and Bishop, K. 2003. Is a Universal

Model of Organic Acidity Possible: Comparison of the Acid/Base
Properties of Dissolved Organic Carbon in the Boreal and Tem-
perate Zones. Environmental Science and Technology 37:1726-

Finding cold-adapted bacteria

to combat organic pollutants in the Arctic

Luigi Michaud (posthumous), Stefania Giannarelli, Maurizio Azzaro & Angelina Lo Giudice

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are long-lived persistent organic pollutants

whose widespread use and chemical stability has led to extensive environmen-
tal contamination, even in remote areas such as the Arctic, through accidental
releases and inappropriate disposal techniques. Despite their persistent nature,
PCBs can be transformed, even at low temperature, into chemical substances
by different microbial metabolic pathways, both in the presence or absence of
oxygen, facilitating further breakdown.
The late Luigi Michaud
during sampling
activities in the Arctic.
Luigi – the leader of our
research project – died
in Antarctica during
sampling activities
in January 2014. His
strong enthusiasm and
passion for science was
fundamental both in
the field and laboratory
(Angelina Lo Giudice).

(a) (b)

Samples (20 Litres) are

mixed with a solvent and
PCBs are extracted by an
innovative method (a)
6 (modified flask-stopper
• and microextractor),
to improve traditional
4 methods (b).

Sampling activities in the

Pasvik river (Marco Graziano).

We wanted to find a relationship between the amount
of PCBs detected in the environment (e.g. water and 2.17
sediment) and the occurrence of cold-adapted PCB- 2.18
degrading bacteria. Kirkeness 2.13
WHAT DID WE DO? Pasvik River
We collected water and sediment samples for chemi-
cal and microbiological analyses, avoiding any external 2.15

contamination. Samples were pre-treated in the field Bioforsk

and then we analyzed them in the laboratory where we 2.16

extracted PCBs (to be detected by gas-chromatography Sampling sites along the Pasvik River and adjacent fjords.
which separates and analyses chemical compounds in
a sample) and microbial DNA (to search for genes that Preparation to sample underwater (Maria Papale).
are involved in the PCB degradation). In the laboratory,
we also isolated PCB-oxidizing bacteria (to be identified,
and studied for the ability to degrade PCBs at low tem-


We worked at the Bioforsk Svanhovd Research Station
(• 8) which is located in the Pasvik area in northern Nor-
way, above the Arctic Circle and in close proximity to
Russia and Finland. The Pasvik River, the largest river
system in northern Fennoscandia, is contaminated by
a wide range of toxic and bioaccumulative substances,
including PCBs. The river outlet is in the Kirkenes area
that therefore appears highly polluted. We argued that
the river flow could have a pollutant effect also on the
fjord system up to the larger Varanger fjord.


We determined a moderate PCB contamination in water
and sediment samples from the Pasvik area. This was
supported by the isolation of a number of PCB-oxidizing
bacteria, mainly obtained from sediment, that were able
to degrade PCB mixtures at low temperature and har-
bored genes involved in the PCB degradation process.


Microorganisms predominate in low-temperature envi-
ronments in terms of biodiversity and biomass. Cold-
adapted bacteria possess high biotechnological poten-
tial like the decontamination of polluted cold sites under 6
in situ environmental conditions. Investigations on the •
ecology and physiology of such bacteria are needed to 4
develop efficient bioremediation strategies (methods to
biologically clear the pollution). Further information
Luigi Michaud (posthumous)1, Stefania Giannarelli2,
THE ADVENTURE Maurizio Azzaro3 & Angelina Lo Giudice1,3
Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences,
Sampling of sediments from the fjord area took several
University of Messina (DiSBA-UNIME), Messina, Italy
dives during which the majestic – but invasive - king 2
Department of Chemistry and Industrial Chemistry,
crabs were observed. The use of open boats to reach University of Pisa (DCCI-UNIPI), Pisa, Italy
distant places for diving activities offered us the oppor- 3
Institute for the Coastal Marine Environment, National Research
tunity to admire the beautiful fjord landscape from the Council (IAMC-CNR), Messina, Italy
sea. During car trips, we encountered a lot of reindeer
and on one occasion a moose.

A microbial ride around the Arctic

Stefano Ventura

Biological Soil Crusts (BSC), microbial communities living on rock surfaces (litho- AIMS OF THE PROJECT
biota), and cyanobacterial mats growing in springs and seepages (temporary This project aimed to undertake a pan-Arc-
puddles generated by the accumulation of water in places where permafrost tic survey of microbial communities living
blocks water drainage through the ground), were selected for this study to in extreme habitats of Arctic landscapes,
describe their diversity, evaluate geographic variations and peculiarities, estab- where plant growth and vegetation cov-
lish a comparison between patterns of development in high and low Arctic envi- erage of soil is limited or impaired, and
ronments, and compare them with corresponding counterparts living in mesic microorganisms dominate. Specifically,
(moderate) temperate climates or in hot and cold deserts. we aimed to understand the role of BSC in
reducing erosion, stabilizing the substrate
These communities depend on alternating seasonal cycles of water availability, and increasing its nutrient content, thus
along with other specific environmental limitations. Prolonged periods of dry- favouring the establishment of a more
ness limit the activity and growth of BSC and lithobiota to a part of the Arctic complex and resilient vegetation.
summer, while UV (Ultra Violet) irradiation challenges their survival. Under the
long lasting summer sun, temperature can substantially increase due to the low
albedo (reflectivity) of these communities (Science Story 3.3) which form thin,
dark pigmented layers on top of the ground, while in winter they are exposed
to extreme, low temperature and blasting winds without any protection. Micro-
bial mats dominated by cyanobacteria flourish in seepages. These communities
experience cyclic water availability and shortage which determine their struc-
ture and biodiversity. In contrast, spring mat communities live continuously
underwater but are subjected to seasonal cycles of freezing and thawing. Special
cases are the communities of photosynthetic microorganisms living in springs
with constantly warm temperatures and “endoliths” living inside rocks. 20 µm

Stigonema sp., a filamentous, branching

cyanobacterium from a rock wall covered
by a wet, black patina, that is a thin
layer of photosynthetic microorganisms
covering the rock surface, Fortune Bay,
Disko Island, Greenland. The scale bar is 20
micrometres, the micrometre (µm) being a
millionth part of a metre (Claudio Sili).


Spotted BSC in the initial stage of Cross section of a small rock (sandstone)
development on the shores of a small fragment, with a green layer of
lake, Ossiansarsfjellet, Kongsfjorden, cyanobacteria growing immediately
Svalbard. This crust represents the kind of below the surface, Ossiansarsfjellet,
less developed, thin, discontinuous crust Kongsfjorden, Svalbard. Microrganisms
that can be found in the more extreme that live inside rocks are called “endoliths”.
habitats on Svalbard (Stefano Ventura). The sandstone fragment has been put
in a sterile plastic bag immediately after
Small lake on the moraine, having been collected in the environment,
at night, in Zackenberg, for further lab analysis. Scale unit is 1 cm
Greenland (Stefano Ventura). (Stefano Ventura).

We investigated the visible and microscopical structure and Our field work has been concluded only recently, and the lab.
the related hydrodynamic properties of BSCs (how BSCs mod- work is still ongoing. From the data we already collected and
ulate water flow on their surface and through them) and the analysed, it seems that BSC growing on Svalbard are more
BSC community composition in the initial stages of develop- diverse than in the other locations studied, and include a
ment. We also looked into the process of soil formation and range of BSC morphologies, from very simple, thin, discontin-
development in relationship to the presence of BSC. uous crusts, to morphologically complex, structured and thick
crusts. We hypothesize that this could be caused by the pres-
Our team identified and characterised the dominating mem- ence of a range of different habitats on Svalbard, including
bers of fungal and cyanobacterial populations which colonise the most extreme conditions along the forefronts of receding
exposed rock surfaces in different microclimatic conditions glaciers.
in the Arctic (and that recall extra-terrestrial conditions). We
also identified community members of mats in seepages and WHY ARE THE RESULTS IMPORTANT?
springs and characterised their photosynthetic behaviour. We hope to understand better how water dynamics influ-
ence the development of microbial communities in extreme
During the field work, we mostly collected samples and stabi- habitats impacted by climate change. Since strong effects
lized them for further manipulation in our home laboratories. of climate change on water balance are widespread, we aim
There, we applied molecular techniques for the identification to supply valuable information to foresee habitat evolution
of the community members, and isolated strains in pure cul- under conditions where water is a main constraint, not only in
ture to better characterize them. We determined the soil struc- the Arctic but also in mesic (moderate) temperate climates or
ture and the hydrological properties of the BSC and measured in hot and cold deserts.
photosynthetic activity.
WHERE DID WE WORK? Visiting several places we could enjoy so many different beau-
Our pan-Arctic survey began in Kongsfjorden, Svalbard at CNR tiful Arctic landscapes, from sailing in front of massive glacier
Arctic Station “Dirigibile Italia” (• 4), and through INTERACT, it fronts calving big ice chunks into the fjord, to hiking in the
has been extended to Arctic Station (• 66), Disko Island in West silent vastness of Greenland, to meeting birds, seals, foxes,
Greenland, Zackenberg Research Station (• 70) in Northeast hares and muskoxen. But it was the sudden, close encounter
Greenland and Tarfala Reseach Station (• 10) in high alpine with an old, big muskox, that was the token of our Arctic expe-
northern Sweden. Samples from northernmost Canadian rience. By the way, the muskox was very peaceful, that time!
regions will be added to the study through collaborative links
with local colleagues.

A seepage formed by temporary accumulation of water in places where permafrost Close encounter with a muskox in
blocks water drainage. Zackenberg Valley, Greenland (Ondrej Komarek). Zackenberg, Greenland (Stefano Ventura).



Further information
Stefano Ventura
Institute of Ecosystem Study (CNR-ISE),
National Research Council of Italy


Microbial biodiversity

in polar lake ecosystems: Ecosystems in shallow Arctic

and Antarctic lakes are largely
why is it different at the North based on biofilms, complex
microbial communities of bac-
and South Pole? teria and micro-eukaryotes
(microalgae and protozoa –
Koen Sabbe, Dagmar Obbels, Pieter Vanormelingen, Otakar Strunecky, small single celled plants and
Bart Van de Vijver, Josef Elster, Annick Wilmotte, Elie Verleyen & Wim Vyverman animals), which inhabit the
bottom sediments as mats.

Typical sampling lake in the Kobbefjord

area, the field site of Greenland Institute
of Natural Resources (Koen Sabbe).


We wanted to understand what mechanisms shape the bio- ture, and frozen biofilm samples, both of which are being
diversity of biofilms, by making a comparison between Arctic used for an in-depth characterization based on DNA mol-
and Antarctic lakes. ecules using so-called next generation sequencing methods
(i.e. methods which “read” the composition of the DNA mol-
WHAT DID WE DO? ecules). While to-date the analyses are still in full progress,
During summer 2013, we sampled microbial biofilms in about preliminary results have uncovered a high microbial diversity
80 lakes in Greenland. Bottom sediment samples were taken in the Greenland lakes, in particular in some groups of silica-
using a sediment corer from deeper parts of the lakes, but we shelled microalgae or diatoms. Interestingly, the observed
also sampled the shallower parts and other wetland habitats species are different from those in similar habitats in Antarc-
6 (seepage areas, bogs, etc.). In addition, we took samples to tica, suggesting different evolutionary pathways for biofilm
• characterize the environment (nutrients, pH, conductivity, etc.). community development in each Polar Region.
We selected two sampling regions each with an INTERACT sta- Despite the huge importance of microbial organisms in
tion, one in the low Arctic zone (near the Greenland Institute aquatic ecosystems, both freshwater and marine, their biodi-
of Natural Resources (• 67) in Nuuk and Kapisillit, West Green- versity remains understudied and hence little understood in
land) and one in the high Arctic (Zackenberg Research Station comparison with larger animals and plants. It has often been
(• 70), Northeast Greenland), in order to cover the different assumed that microbial species, unlike animals and plants,
Arctic climatic conditions. have unlimited dispersal and will therefore be found wherever
the environment is suitable for growth. As a result, formation
WHAT DID WE FIND? of new species in isolation (allopatric speciation) should be
We collected both live biofilm materials, from which cyano- negligible and global biodiversity low. The Arctic and Antarc-
bacteria and microalgae were isolated and brought into cul- tic offer a unique opportunity to test hypotheses regarding

Microbial biofilm (the brownish layer at the top of the Cymbella
sediment core) recovered from the bottom sediment
10 5 0 5 10 15 20 25 30
of a lake in the Kobbefjord area (Koen Sabbe). Number of species/genus

Species richness (= the number of species) of diatom

genera is not the same in Antarctic (blue) and Arctic (red)
lakes. This suggests that the diatom communities in both
regions have evolved in isolation of one another.

Diatoms are microalgae which are very common in polar

biofilms (here the species Luticola katkae is shown in a
scanning electron micrograph).

Our sampling campaigns took us to two beautiful yet con-
trasting regions of Greenland: from the sunny late spring tun-
dra full of flowers, birds and, inevitably, mosquitoes in South-
Bringing a core (taken using a so-called UWITEC corer) from west Greenland to the cold and harsh late summer conditions
the bottom sediment of a lake in the Kapisillit area to shore of Zackenberg. The empty space and silence of the Greenland
(Dagmar Obbels). landscape was overwhelming, especially if you come from a
busy country in mainland Europe. Sightings of whales, rein-
the biodiversity and evolution of microbial organisms. While deer and muskoxen made the experience complete.
being highly similar from an environmental point of view,
the two Polar Regions are separated from one another by the Further information 6
temperate and tropical belts. In addition, the Arctic Region is Koen Sabbe1, Dagmar Obbels1, Pieter Vanormelingen1, •
connected to the Northern Hemisphere land masses, while Otakar Strunecky2, Bart Van de Vijver3, Josef Elster2, 6
the Antarctic is isolated by the Southern Ocean. Our project Annick Wilmotte4, Elie Verleyen1 & Wim Vyverman1
will test the existing hypothesis that because of unlimited dis- 1
L aboratory of Protistology and Aquatic Ecology,
persal and similar environments, most polar micro-organisms Department of Biology, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium
will be present in both Polar Regions. This view needs to be 2
Centre for Polar Ecology, Department of Ecosystem Biology,
tested as there is growing evidence of dispersal limitation and University of South Bohemia, Ceske Budejovice, Czech Republic
­endemism in microbial organisms (endemic species only occur
National Botanic Garden of Belgium,
Domein van Bouchout, Meise, Belgium
in a specific geographic area). If the latter is true, our data 4
Centre for Protein Engineering, University of Liège,
should show that given the higher connectivity of Arctic areas, Liège, Belgium
microbial communities there will be relatively diverse, while
the more isolated Antarctic communities will be species-poor Contact:
and dominated by endemic species.

7 People
in the North

Jan Dick, Najat Bhiry & Christine Barnard

People have inhabited Arctic and sub-Arctic regions for mil-

lennia. Predecessors of the North American native peoples
are estimated to have crossed the land bridge about 30,000
years ago while Arctic Russia was inhabited even earlier.
Today the northern circumpolar region of our planet is home
to approximately 13.1 million  people who are spread across
a vast territory, some 21.5 million square kilometres. This
immense territory is governed by eight countries: Canada,
United States, Russia, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland and
Denmark/Greenland. Of this population, Indigenous Peo-
ples are estimated to represent about 10 percent of the total
population currently living in Arctic areas. In addition to Arctic
Indigenous Peoples, the Arctic is inhabited by other peoples
such as descendants of Norwegian Vikings and Russians that
migrated to the Arctic during the past 1,000 years. As might
be expected, Arctic residents are not evenly spread across the
vast wilderness, but they group together in cities, towns, ham-
lets and villages (Figure 7.1). Historically human settlements
were often located where a freshwater stream or river joined
the ocean, so people could easily obtain their needs from the
sea, land and freshwater, i.e. nature’s services. The Arctic is
no different from other regions of the world in this respect.
In the North however, the issue of remoteness was of utmost
importance as many northern communities were discon-
nected from industrial development for centuries due to the
great distances and presence of physical barriers (mountains,
ocean, wetlands in summer, etc.). Today, many villages are still
difficult to access. In Canada for instance, less than half of the
northern communities have all-weather road connections with
the rest of the country and many villages are only accessible by
air (Canadian Polar Commission 2014).

Sámi children
practicing the use of lasso
in Lapland, Finland
(Mikko Jokinen).


Figure 7.1  Major and minor settlements in the circumpolar Arctic. The small blue dots represent villages and hamlets with less
than 20,000 inhabitants (Philippe Rekacewicz/GRID-Arendal).

(a) (b) (c)

Figure 7.2  Indigenous peoples of the Arctic. (a) Nenets reindeer herders from the western Russian Arctic (Peter Prokosch/GRID-
Arendal). (b) Sámi reindeer herders from Finland (Mikko Jokinen). (c) Canadian Inuit fishing at an ice hole (José Gérin-Lajoie).

Arctic residents, specifically the Aboriginal peoples, are thus

Globalization-induced changes:
resourceful, resilient and adaptive, with an intimate relation-
„„ Increasing levels of resource extraction often conflict-
ship to the land that has been transmitted across generations
ing with recognition of rights and perceived environ-
(Figure 7.2). Their intricate link to the land has provided them
mental concerns.
with their resources for subsistence and structured their spir-
„„ Increasing food insecurity for some small, remote set-
itual and cultural identity. Due to this remoteness, traditional
tlements, but better food security for the vast majority
ways have dominated life in many northern communities and
of Arctic residents through shops, better logistics and
has historically served to somewhat buffer modernisation and
hunting equipment that makes hunting more efficient
massive resource development.
(extended travel and shooting ranges). Improved logis-
tics, safety and communication equipment also make
Today, Arctic residents are faced with unprecedented change
hunting trips safer.
in the dual context of climate change and rapid socio-eco-
„„ Changing education needs to adapt to changing
nomic development (globalization). This section focuses on
conditions in the natural environment and new skills
the impacts of change specifically relevant to Arctic residents.
required by a modernised society.
„„ Some communities may experience increasing health
problems with a changing diet (e.g. diabetes and
The circumarctic region has experienced remarkable shifts in
obesity), increasing mental distress, increasing suicide
climate in the relatively recent past (e.g. the Little Ice Age of
rates, increasing contaminant levels and new diseases
the 15th-19th centuries, Section 1). The warming induced by
from southern regions. On the other side, many com-
anthropogenic activities is unprecedented in both magnitude
munities also benefit from improved access to better
and scale, and at the same time societal and industrial devel-
health care and access to supplementary nutritious
opments as well as globalization are having an impact in the
food (some local foods are contaminated due to long-
Arctic Region.
range pollution) etc.
„„ Increase in inadequate housing due to increasing local
Communities in the Arctic are very diverse ranging from those
populations in some communities, but increasingly
of larger cities with easy access to the outer world, over com-
improved housing for most Arctic residents through
munities of smaller remote settlements to migrating nomads.
better building materials, insulation, electricity and
These communities are affected differently by the current and
improved heating systems.
expected changes. Whether these changes are perceived to
„„ Better access to knowledge and goods.
be good or bad depends on personal opinions and numerous
factors like location (e.g. local changes in the natural resource
availability, infrastructure underlain by permafrost, access to
markets, etc.), local livelihood strategies (e.g. dependency on It is globalization rather than climate change that has had more
natural resources for income, food security and health), and impact on Arctic residents in the past century (AHDC 2004).
societal developments influenced by globalization (e.g. indus- For many Arctic residents who had experienced relatively little
trial development, school systems, shops, health care, modern contact with other populations prior to this period, the signifi-
equipment, etc.). cant improvements in infrastructure, transportation and com-
munications have brought on rapid social change, requiring
Some examples of change impacts relevant to the Arctic extensive adaptations and resilience (Allard and Lemay 2012;
Region and its peoples include: IPCC 2014). These societal changes occur alongside arctic eco-
systems that are undergoing major change in terms of spe-
cies composition, productivity, timing of reproduction, new
Climate-induced changes: infectious diseases and changes in migratory patterns, forcing
„„ Permafrost thaw which has impacts on infrastructure local communities to adapt to these changes. Unpredictable
and urban planning. changes in weather leading to residents’ decreased capacity
„„ Rapidly changing weather conditions, increased fre- to evaluate safe travel conditions may also make some food
quencies of storm events and avalanches, changing items less accessible in some periods, but may also provide
freeze/thaw events, reduced ability to predict safety easier access to old and new hunting grounds. All of these
when travelling on the land and ice, changes in snow/ changes, in turn, affect local food security issues.
ice conditions influencing access to hunting grounds.
„„ Changes in flora and fauna which influence subsist- Historically, hunting and fishing have significantly reduced
ence hunting, fishing and gathering activities, access to local wildlife populations requiring communities to re-settle.
traditional foods, and spiritual/cultural values. The harvest may have been sustainable on a larger scale due
„„ Easier access to non-renewable and renewable natural to the vast area and low human population, but with increases 7
resources in the North and new shipping routes. in human population levels and improved hunting efficiency
(boats, rifles, means of communication, etc.) some prey popu-

of a problem in the more developed parts of the Arctic, food

Traditional scientific funded monitoring

insecurity is an issue elsewhere due to factors like high food
Remote sensing costs (often combined with low incomes), the lack of avail-
monitoring ability of healthy foods in shops and lifestyle choices that are
Researchers Local people
monitoring monitoring influenced by the western market for processed foods (Furgal
and others 2012). Access to healthy and affordable foods is a
major concern for some urban Arctic residents and in remotely
Ecosystem located communities nutritious commercial food items may
be expensive and difficult to obtain. Traditional country foods
of Indigenous Peoples obtained through socially important
External voluntary Voluntary local hunting, fishing, and gathering activities are often considered
monitoring community healthier than less nutritious western food, although concern
e.g. tourist monitoring is also raised over harmful contaminant levels in some preda-
Citizen Science unfunded monitoring
tor species that act as “bioaccumulators” (concentration of
contaminants up through the food web).
Figure 7.3  Different types of monitoring schemes utilised to
monitor change in the Arctic. The consequences of food insecurity, experienced by some
communities, include increased risks of having chronic health
conditions (overweight, diabetes, dental cavities etc.), men-
tal health challenges, and a lower learning capacity. In light
lations have been overharvested, thus affecting local food of these issues, many positive actions have begun to alleviate
security. food insecurity in the North (IPCC 2014). These include better
access to nutritious foods through improved infrastructure,
Food security is an issue which eloquently illustrates the com- reorienting market food subsidies, increasing the availability
plex patterns evolving from both climate change and globali- of country foods (enhancing sustainable harvest and sharing
zation. Food security exists when “all people, at all times, have networks, sharing of community freezers, encouraging com-
physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious mercial sale and distribution of country foods, etc.), enhanc-
food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for ing hunter support groups, and promoting health and nutri-
an active and healthy life” (FAO 1996). While food security is less tion education (Furgal and others 2012).

Figure 7.4  Diagrammatic representation of the interaction between humans and the planet Earth.
Inuit heading out on the ice to hunt seal (José Gérin-Lajoie).

Land, Sea & Air

Natures services
The elements which
together make the Benefits humans obtain Human Well-being
environment useful to
Provisioning Cultural Basic materials Good social
people and the process
such as food, such as for good life relations
such as photosynthesis
and decomposition water, fuel recreation,
Security Health
which allow the delivery and aesthetic and
of services people use medicines spirituality Freedom of choice and action
Importance Total Economic
people attach to Value of natures
Biophysical Regulating services they goods and
elements can be valued such as climate, erosion, floods obtain from the services
air, land and sea
Socio-cultural Monetary
opinions and value can be
Air, Land, Water and Marine actions can be determined
environments managed by humans analysed and a for some
‘non-monetary aspects
value’ assigned

Peoples actions
7 Policy & Decision Making Other drivers
such as Climate Change,
global trade


In order to manage the northern regions of our planet in a
sustainable way for both humans and wildlife, we need to bet-
ter understand the impact of human actions which result in
changes in global ecosystems. There is an old saying that “in
order to manage you have to measure” (a McKinsey Maxim)
and although more challenging than in more southerly
regions of our planet due to the harsh conditions, the Arctic
has been monitored for many years in innovative ways.

The knowledge generated through conventional science

and monitoring is the focus of this book, but other types of
non-conventional monitoring are also important. This non-
conventional monitoring ranges from local autonomous tra-
ditional systems with no or limited formal agreements to for-
mal community-based initiatives embedded in local manage- Figure 7.5  Weighing a reindeer calf to monitor condition of
ment systems and to scientist-led Citizen science programmes wild reindeer (Joëlle Taillon).
(CAFF 2013).

Examples of advantages of involving local residents in the

assessment of Arctic change:
a national legal framework. Knowledge sources like observa-
„„ Ensures science questions are relevant for the local tions, perceptions, experiences and “traditional knowledge”
context. can be used beneficially in the design of both conventional
„„ Uses existing, often silent, knowledge embedded in and locally based science and monitoring projects. All types
the community. of knowledge have limitations and the current challenge is
„„ Builds local capacity. to bridge the knowledge generated from western science,
„„ Provides more observers with greater geographical citizen science, community-based monitoring and traditional
and temporal coverage. knowledge, as all forms of knowledge are invaluable to the
„„ Leads potentially to greater understanding, acceptance overarching mission of ensuring sustainability (Huntington
and adherence to management needs, and thus more and others 2004).
sustainable management. Increases cost-effectiveness
compared to conventional monitoring (although it may In the context of climate change and the rapidly changing
be relatively expensive to develop and implement). Arctic, it is scientifically and socially important to set up rel-
„„ Often shortens response time from observation to evant and reliable tools to involve the local populations in
management action (Danielsen and others 2010). learning about research through outreach and educational
activities, and also to involve them in community-based moni-
toring activities. It is one thing to make the data available from
Examples of disadvantages include: a researchers’ perspective, but another to make this data com-
prehensible, interesting, and relevant to northerners. Educa-
„„ Potential conflict of interest leading to flawed obser- tion and information exchange (traditional and academic) are
vations when resource user and observer is the same giant steps towards community empowerment and capacity
person (i.e. letting the fox guard the sheep). building for local sustainable management throughout the cir-
„„ Development, implementation and training costs cumpolar North.
depending on applied monitoring / assessment
approach. There are many excellent Citizen science initiatives, one being
the AVATIVUT: Bridging Environmental Science and Commu-
nity-based Monitoring Programmes where environmental sci-
entists at the Centre for Northern Studies (CEN) in the eastern
Two terms have been used to describe the involvement of Canadian sector of INTERACT have teamed up with a northern
citizens in monitoring the environment. “Citizen science” is a school board and education specialists. AVATIVUT (www.cen.
type of scientific monitoring conducted wholly, or in part, by engages high-school students of Nunavik
amateurs or non-professionals but is often centrally designed (in the eastern Canadian sub-Arctic) in environmental science,
and analysed by scientists. In contrast, in “community-based including data collection and archiving. The topics include 7
monitoring”, the community is heavily involved in the design monitoring of berry productivity, snow and ice cover and
and operation of initiatives, and maintains and retains owner- permafrost, and the activities are partially supported by the
ship of the results and uses them freely as they wish within research program ADAPT (



The scientists studying the interaction of people and the envi-
ronment have recently framed their work around the central
concept that human needs are delivered by the goods and ser-
vices they obtain from nature, i.e. nature’s services (Figure 7.4).
Some scientists use the term “ecosystem services”. The concept
is focused on humans because scientists argue that in order to
manage the land, air and sea in a sustainable way for the ben-
efit of future generations, it is necessary to consider the central
role humans play in altering and managing our planet.

The interaction between humans and the environment is

often depicted as a series of interconnecting elements where
the physical elements provide services which influence
human well-being which results in human actions to manage
the system to ultimately maximise human well-being. In the
past, there has been a focus on monetary valuation but more
recently people understand that there is a need to “value”
elements of the environment for which there is currently no
market. The world is not however neatly partitioned into little
boxes as people and services move freely around our planet so
actions in one place can have a large impact on another and
this is what we see happening in respect to climate change.

The services are commonly considered in three categories.

Some of the services are used directly by people and are
called “provisioning ecosystem services”. There are many
examples such as reindeer (Figure 7.5) that are used for food
and fur, berries used as food and to flavour drinks and medici-
nal plants such as Sedum rosea famed for its ability to reduce
stress and also considered by some an aphrodisiac (http:// These services
often have a tradable or market value. There are also impor-
tant services that are not used directly, but affect our lives.
These are called “regulatory ecosystem services”. They include,
for example, the storage and release of greenhouse gases that
when released into the atmosphere, accelerate climate warm-
ing. These services traditionally were not traded and conse-
quently had no market value. A third category of “cultural
ecosystem services” is often recognised such as the aesthetic
beauty or spirituality of a location or the space for recreational
activities. Many of these services are not tradable and because
many are “passive-use” services, everyone can enjoy them but
once enjoyed they remain for the next person. These services
often only have a tradable value if the area belongs to an
individual or group and they control access. In addition some
researchers recognize “supporting” (MA, 2005) and “habitat”
(TEEB 2010) services from which all the other services flow.

Figure 7.6  Ice fishing in
the Canadian North
(José Gérin-Lajoie).

Key messages and needs for further research
THE FUTURE FOR PEOPLE OF THE „„ Actions of human’s today have wide ranging (often global) and

NORTH long term influences on the environment. Consequently long-term
Social, environmental and economic monitoring of the environment is vital for society to ensure the
change is constantly happening to all the knowledge needed to sustainably manage the planet is available
peoples of the world including the people for future generations.
of the North. Science can provide knowl- „„ Involving a wide range of citizens in the monitoring of the environ-
edge to help maintain both a healthy
ment has societal advantages yet challenges scientists to ensure
environment and to increase people’s well-
robust knowledge is generated.
being. In the following pages the science
funded by the INTERACT Transnational
„„ Knowledge about the Arctic environment through single discipli-
access program and hosted by INTERACT nary research has advanced our understanding of specific aspects
research stations highlights some of these but there is a need for future research to focus on a holistic analy-
changes and the need for knowledge and sis that will require new tools, statistical techniques and societal
tools to aid managers and policy makers. involvement.

Climate change is influencing many geo-

physical aspects (e.g. snow and ice regimes)
of northern landscapes. Science Story 7.1 Further information and references
investigated the level of risk for local infra- Jan Dick1, Najat Bhiry2 & Christine Barnard2
structure to aid hazard management. Five
Center for Ecology and Hydrology, National Environmental Research Council, UK
projects report within the framework of
Centre d’etudes Nordiques/Centre for Northern Studies, Université Laval, Canada
ecosystem services: (a) Science Story 7.2 Contact:;;
focused on the biophysical and economic
flows, (b) Science Story 7.3 focused on Allard, M. and Lemay, M. 2012. Nunavik and Nunatsiavut: From science to policy. An
human perceptions of ecosystem services, Integrated Regional Impact Study (IRIS) of climate change and modernization. Arc-
(c) Science Story 7.4 focused on forests, ticNet Inc., Quebec City, Canada, 303p.
(d) Science Story 7.5 which combined ele- php
ments presented in the projects mentioned Arctic Human Development Report, 2004.
using a statistical tool called a Bayesian CAFF 2011. Terrestrial Monitoring Expert Group Background Paper of the CMBP’s Ter-
restrial Expert Monitoring Group. CAFF International Secretariat, CAFF Monitoring
Belief network, and (e) Science Story 7.6
Series Resport nr. 6.
which brought together permafrost spe-
Canadian Polar Commission 2014. State of Northern Knowledge in Canada. Retrieved
cialists, engineers, architects, local authori- from
ties, and community members to develop Danielsen, F., Burgess, N.D., Jensen, P.M. and Pirhofer-Walzl, K. 2010. Environmental
detailed maps and a sustainable urban monitoring: the scale and speed of implementation varies according to the degree
planning strategy to adapt to changing of peoples involvement. Journal of Applied Ecology 47(6):1166-1168.
permafrost conditions. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO – November 1996). “Rome Declaration on
Food Security and World Food Summit Plan of Action”. Retrieved June 17, 2014.
Furgal, C., Chan, L., Tremblay, M., Rajdev, V., Barrett, M. and Sheldon, T. 2012. Impacts
of climate change on food security in Nunavik and Nunatsiavut. In: Nunavik and
Nunatsiavut: From science to policy. An Integrated Regional Impact Study (IRIS) of
climate change and modernization. ArcticNet Inc., Quebec City, Canada, Chapter 5,
pp 157-169.
Huntington, H., Callaghan, T.V., Fox, S.H., and Krupnik, I. 2004. Matching Traditional and
Scientific Observations to Detect Environmental Change: A Discussion on Arctic
Terrestrial Ecosystems Ambio Special Report 13, 18-23.
IPCC, 2014. Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Part B:
Regional Aspects. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report
of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Barros, V.R., C.B. Field, D.J. Dok-
ken, M.D. Mastrandrea, and others, (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge,
United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, Chapter 28: Polar Regions, pp 1-71.
Millennium Assessment. Ecosystems and human well-being. General synthesis. Wash-
ington, DC: Island Press, 2005.
TEEB 2010. The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity: Mainstreaming the Eco-
nomics of Nature: A Synthesis of the Approach, Conclusions and Recommendations
of TEEB.

Dynamic risk management

for an Artic region

Sven Fuchs

Snow avalanche risk is dynamic due to

the variability of avalanche hazard and
people exposed. During our stay we
accessed Russian literature not available
in Central Europe. Moreover, data was
collected in order to quantify the risk for
individuals using the road network as
well as for the railroad in the region.
City of Kirovsk, Kola Peninsula, Russia (Sven Fuchs).


The project was targeted at the development of a computer The objectives of the field season included accessing Rus-
model for the development of avalanche risk at different sian literature which is not easily accessible from outside the
scales of space and time. The risk is defined as the probability country, and accessing local meteorological data, as well as
of occurrence of snow avalanches multiplied by the expected information related to the avalanche activity in recent dec-
damage for elements at risk. ades. Moreover, we collected data related to the elements at
risk (with a particular focus on roads and railroads). Hence, the
focus was on gathering available information which is needed
for the calculation of risk to individuals and communities. As a
mitigation team in
Khibiny (Yuri Zuzin).
result of our field campaign, we were able to quantify the risk
factor for people using the road connection when commut-
ing to their workplace as well as estimate the risk factor for
the main railroad connections among the industrial establish-
ments in the region.


The city of Kirovsk, located adjacent to the Khibiny Educa-
tional and Scientific Station (• 26), in the heart of the Khibiny
Mountains on the Kola Peninsula (Northwest Russia), was cho-
7 sen as a test site because of (1) the almost unique situation
• of a mountain area prone to avalanche hazards with regional
1 construction activities from time to time consisting of mainly
maintenance and development of roads and railroads which
are (2) heavily dependent on and influenced by industrial
activities, including land development for industrial and resi-
A mountain pass near the Khibiny Research Station (Sven Fuchs). dential construction, and the construction of infrastructure
lines, e.g. power lines and pipelines.

160 400 Daily catering at the Khibiny Research
Daily traffic in Kirovsk 2012, Russia Number of cars
(downtown - 25 km) Hourly mean of cars Station (Sven Fuchs).
Number of passengers

Number of passengers
120 300
Number of cars

80 200

40 100

0 0
0 2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20 22 24
Time (hours)
Variability of the hourly traffic on a diurnal basis in 2012 for Khibiny Research Station is easily accessible by public trans-
a major road connection in the Khibiny Mountains, Russian port – the challenge is to organize daily life there. Working and
Federation (Fuchs and others 2013). living in northern Russia is demanding in daily adjustments,
and requires the challenge of improvisation. The support of
the local station manager as well as of the Moscow State Uni-
versity crew was great and we thank all of them for the stylish
WHAT DID WE FIND? hospitality and all the efforts that had to be undertaken prior
We found clear variations in the level of risk which infrastruc- to our arrival.
ture is exposed to both on a short-term and long-term time
frame. While the short-term variations in snow avalanche risk Further information
are highly dependent on the traffic density on the road and Sven Fuchs
railroad sections studied, the long-term variability of risk is University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences,
more influenced by the overall dynamics of economic activi- Institute of Mountain Risk Engineering, Vienna, Austria
ties in the region. Contact:

WHY ARE THE RESULTS IMPORTANT? Fuchs, S., Keiler, M., Sokratov, S. and Shnyparkov, A. 2013. Spa-
Knowledge of the dynamics of avalanche risk provides infor- tiotemporal dynamics: the need for an innovative approach
mation on economically efficient and technically effective in mountain hazard risk management. Natural Hazards
risk mitigation measures, such as permanent measures (snow Shnyparkov, A., Fuchs, S., Sokratov, S. and others 2012. Theory
supporting structures in avalanche starting zones) and tem- and practice of individual snow avalanche risk assessment in •
porary measures (road closure, evacuation). The identification the Russian arctic. Geography, Environment, Sustainability 1
of dynamics in natural risk hazards, as well as the underlying 5(3):64-81.
processes, contributes to an improved understanding of pre-
Our blog:
sent-day risk levels while allowing local managers to consider from-the-field/arctic-risk-spatiotemporal-development-of-snow-
the different aspects of risk evolution for the future safety of avalanche-risk/
local people and property.

Assessing and valuing ecosystem services

in the Abisko area

Pier Paolo Franzese, Natasha Nikodinoska, Tiina Häyhä, Silvio Viglia & Alessandro Paletto

Ecosystem services are the benefits humans gain from eco- WHAT DID WE DO?
system structure and functions. Nature supports human First we collected data on physical, social and economic
economy and well-being with a wide range of ecosystem aspects. Then we made a model to illustrate the interplay
services. This research work focused on the assessment and between natural ecosystems and human activities in the study
valuation of ecosystem services in the area of the Abisko area. The data collected were used to evaluate the main eco-
National Park (Sweden). system services as well as to account for environmental costs
and impacts due to tourism and research activities. Finally,
we estimated the economic value of the ecosystem services
based on tourists’ perceptions and willingness to pay for sup-
porting nature conservation activities.


We worked at the Abisko Scientific Research Station (• 11)
located in Swedish sub-Arctic Lapland. The station is open
throughout the year and has modern and well-equipped
research facilities. In addition, the station is located in a stra-
tegic position and has long-term databases and a wide collec-
tion of scientific literature most useful for setting up scientific
studies in the area.


We found that the presence of the Abisko National Park
ensures the generation of a valuable set of ecosystem ser-
vices, which include: regulating (e.g., carbon sequestration,
water regulation), provisioning (e.g., game, wood, water),
and cultural services (e.g., recreation and research activities).
The Abisko area hosts many ecosystem services such as Human-managed activities in the area entailing the main
tourism, fishing and carbon sequestration by the forest
environmental costs and impacts were tourism and reindeer
(Pier Paolo Franzese).
husbandry. Results also showed that 61% of the interviewed
tourists were willing to pay for the implementation of adap-
tation strategies coping with climate change impacts. The
AIMS OF THE PROJECT willingness to pay ranged from 2€ to 376€, with an individ-
We wanted to identify and determine the value of ecosystem ual mean value of 20.6€. These results are in line with those
services in the area of the Abisko National Park (Sweden) in obtained from previous studies on protected areas located in
order to aid management decisions. boreal and temperate forest ecosystems.

Lapporten near Abisko Scientific

Research Station, Sweden
(Pier Paolo Franzese).



Fuels Electricity & Services Central
machinery Government
heat Tourists


Lakes Management)
Wind & Soil
rivers matter
Recreated tourists
Animals Research products
Solar Birch forest
Reindeer pastures

Symbolic model showing the main input and output flows, and the interactions between natural ecosystems and human
managed activities in the Abisko area. Snow and soil nutrients were not included in the model.


The Abisko National Park represents one of Europe’s last The field activities gave us the opportunity to experience the
remaining wilderness areas, showing major environmental, beauty of Nordic flora and fauna. Particularly exciting was the
climatic and vegetation gradients and changes. Although the moment when we found a big moose right outside the door
Arctic landscape seems to be pristine and untouched, there of the research station. Another unforgettable experience was
has been an impact of human activities which is becom- a night when suddenly the sky got enlightened by the marve-
ing more and more evident at Arctic latitudes, where global lous aurora borealis (northern lights).
change manifests itself first and fastest.

Further information
Pier Paolo Franzese1, Natasha Nikodinoska1,
Tiina Häyhä2, Silvio Viglia1& Alessandro Paletto3

Parthenope University of Naples, Italy
Stockholm University, Sweden
CRA-MPF, Italy
Contact: •
Häyhä, T. and Franzese, P.P. 2014. Ecosystem services assessment:
A review under an ecological-economic and systems perspec-
tive. Ecological Modelling 289:124-132.
Moose outside the
Abisko Station buildings
(Pier Paolo Franzese).


The project is a social-based inquiry into cultural ecosystem ser-

Ecosystem service vices. The ecosystem services (ES) concept has become a promi-
nent framework for ecosystem assessment and research relevant
social assessments in to people. ES are ecological processes that give rise to benefits to
humans that make life possible and worth living. These include
extreme environments the fundamental processes that assure livable climate, fertile
soils, and clean air and water, processes that allow humans to
Daniel Orenstein & Roy Zaidenberg derive food and materials from the Earth, and processes that cre-
ate cultural landscapes that provide recreation and social mean-
ing. We study the last of these – cultural ecosystem services.


We aimed to understand what characteristics of ecosystems
humans appreciate for non-material well-being, what aspects
of the landscape they most appreciate, what is the connection
between their activities and their values vis-à-vis the land-
scape, and how do they perceive tradeoffs between economic
development and provision of cultural and other services.
In order to answer these questions, we apply social research
methods, including public surveys, in-depth interviews, and
focus-group discussions.


We completed over 400 questionnaires querying the opin-
ions, perceptions and behaviours of the local and tourist pop-
ulations and we returned a year later to complete 20 in-depth
interviews with diverse stakeholders.


We worked in Scotland’s Cairngorms National Park (ECN Cairn-
gorms (• 76)) and compared our data with data obtained in the
Dead Sea Basin in Israel; both the Cairngorms and the Dead
Sea Basin are considered extreme environments (sub-alpine
and hyper-arid, respectively) and are geographical/demo-
graphical peripheral areas relative to their respective coun-


A sample of the survey results reveals that local residents
have a strong affinity for both geography (landscape, moun-
tains, openness) and biodiversity (trees, flowers, animals),
while characteristics of the extreme environments (wind,
precipitation, winter day-length) along with biting insects are
among the least favored environmental characteristics. These
results correlate closely with the Dead Sea data and previ-
ous research conducted in extreme environments in Israel
7 and Jordan. The population expresses high commitment to
• environmental and ecological values in both surveys and
3 interviews, but also believes that economic development and
environmental protection can, and should, occur together (i.e.
“sustainable” development). Both the Dead Sea and the Cairn-
Nature: majestic pines of the Cairngorms (Daniel gorms respondents see tourism and agriculture as the basis
Orenstein). of their economies. In the Cairngorms, most respondents did
not want to see more population growth in the region, while

in the Dead Sea, population growth was seen as essential to WHY ARE THE RESULTS IMPORTANT?

long-term socio-economic sustainability. In the Cairngorms, The ecosystem services concept is becoming integrated
respondents involved in farming/fishing and forestry recog- into environmental policy and planning, and cultural ser-
nized the natural environment as crucial to their economic vices should play a central role in shaping policy alongside
livelihood. Despite the role of the natural wild landscape provisioning (e.g. natural foods) and regulating (e.g. carbon
in attracting tourists to the region, those who reported capture) services. The research conducted here allows us
working in tourism-related businesses did not judge that to begin to characterise and quantify cultural services in
their economic well-being was dependent on the natural the ecosystem. Further, it is a way in which the public can
resources of the area. express its desires and preferences vis-à-vis their natural

Agriculture: The cattle of THE ADVENTURE

Balliefurth Farm, Scotland Coming from the hot, arid Middle East and experiencing the
(Daniel Orenstein). rainy, green Cairngorms was an adventure in itself. Hiking
the valley, climbing to the peaks, speaking with hundreds
of residents and eating typical Scottish meals proved to be
a wonderful research experience.

Sample of research results from public surveys in the Cairngorms.

Perceptions of environmental characteristics Reported economic dependency on resources

5 4
Hate it Neutral Love it



4 Tourism Industry
3 Farming/fishing/forestry

1 1
An gth

te g in ms

ow l
er n e
y l ns

en ls
ild s

W Q s
To ow t
gr rs

lim t
m Dis ate

No Sn clim e

Pr y le ts
ip th

g ind





rc h




W nes



m Mou ap

er nc
n- ow at



Op ma

po e

a ec

ild ui

te Lig

ec ng


da tai



W itin stor


tin W


m ta


rd s






es ld a






Do o r w








Further information
Daniel Orenstein & Roy Zaidenberg
Faculty of Architecture and Town Planning,
Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel


Katz-Gerro, T. and Orenstein, D.E. 2015. Environmental tastes,

opinions and behaviors: social sciences in the service of
cultural ecosystem service assessment. Ecology and Society 7
Orenstein, D.E. and Groner, E. 2014. In the eye of the stake-

holder: Changes in perceptions of ecosystem services across 3
an international border. Ecosystem Services 8(0):185-196.

Tourism: Cairngorm Hotel in Aviemore (Daniel Orenstein). welcome-to-scotland-enjoy-the-weather/

Assessment of boreal forest ecosystem services

at two Russian sites

Jill Thompson & Mike Smith

Understanding the impacts of human devel-

opment, natural disturbances and climate
change on boreal forests is essential for know-
ing how ecosystem services provided by these
forests are changing, when forests worldwide
are under increasing threats. Standardisation
of measurements across the globe is essential
to understand regional differences, and to pre-
dict and respond to these changes.

Scaffold allows access to trees for tree physiology measurements near Spasskaya Pad Scientific Forest Station (Jill Thompson).


We aimed to establish new scientific collaborations and to in the central taiga (the Russian boreal forest) area of western
exchange knowledge and information about boreal forest Siberia. The research site is representative of the western Sibe-
ecosystems and human interactions with the forests. To this rian pristine peatland ecosystems with pine and dwarf shrub
end we used questionnaires with local people to determine bogs. The forest is characterised by the following species:
the ecosystem services provided by boreal forests and also Pinus sylvestris, P. sibirica, (evergreen pine trees) Larix sibirica,
assessed the feasibility of establishing large, long-term forest (deciduous larch trees) Populus tremula and Betula platyphylla
plots. The questionnaires were adapted from those used by (deciduous poplar and birch trees).
the project described in Science Story 7.3 to give information
on the full range of ecosystem services that forests deliver and The team then flew east to the city of Yakutsk in the Central
included questions such as what amount of timber and food Yakutia region and visited the Spasskaya Pad Scientific Forest
is collected and how much time is spent visiting and enjoying Station (• 39), located on a Pleistocene terrace on the western
the forest. The large forest plots will help us to understand the bank of the Lena River. The forest ecosystem surrounding the
amount of carbon that is stored in the forests and the eco- station is characterized by sparse taiga and also by pine and
logical processes that maintain them. The forest plot meth- larch forests (Pinus sylvestris and Larix sibirica).
ods which were discussed during our visit, followed those
developed by the international Center for Tropical Forests that These sites, which are each typical of their regions, are not
has expanded to include all other forests by joining with the currently included in the CTFS-SIGEO network (mentioned
Smithsonian Institution “Global Earth Observatory Network” above).
(CTFS-SIGEO, This global forest network
now acts as a platform for a wide range of studies including WHAT DID WE DO?
ecosystem services, ecosystem processes, carbon dynamics Along with our hosts we visited forest sites and identified suit-
7 and plant and animal interactions. The methods describe how able areas for the establishment of large 50 ha forest plots,
• the data on trees and tree size is collected and enables the and discussed CTFS methods for plot establishment and how
4 information about the forests to be shared. to measure the trees.

WHERE DID WE WORK? We also visited education establishments, local administra-

The journey inside Russia started in Khanty-Mansiysk at the tors and scientists interested in participating in the projects in
University of Yugra and the first forest site at the Mukhrino Khanty-Mansiysk and Yakutsk to discuss the needs and oppor-
Field Station (• 29) was on the eastern bank of the Irtysh River tunities for long-term forest plot monitoring.

We distributed the questionnaires about forest ecosystem

Measuring tree
services and collated verbal feedback at both sites from stu- diameter with
dents, staff and scientists, and also local people in three small calipers in the
villages near to Yakutsk. forest near the
Mukhrino Field
We found great enthusiasm for the potential to join the CTFS- (Jill Thompson).
SIGEO network both at the political administrative level and
from the local forest managers.

The Department of Natural Resources in Khanty-Mansiysk,

the University of Yugra and staff at the Institute of Biological
Problems of Cryolithozone agreed to engage in collabora-
tive research and to support the establishment of large forest
plots, research projects and student exchange. We obtained a
total (for both sites) of 118 completed questionnaires about
forest ecosystem services. The ecosystem service concept was
new to the local people and the questionnaires proved to be a
useful medium to exchange knowledge about the interaction
of local people with the forests and surrounding areas.


Worldwide, forests are under increasing threat from human
development, changing intensity and frequency of natural dis-
turbance, and climate change. The impact of these threats on
forests and their plant, animal and microorganism dynamics,
ecosystem functions and resistance and resilience to change is
not fully understood. Scientists are therefore establishing long-
term forest plots across the Globe to learn more about forests
and human interactions. There are currently no large forest
plots (16 -50 ha) that we know of in boreal Russian forests.

We had a wonderful time at both sites and very much appreci-
ated the opportunity to meet knowledgeable and interesting
people with an enthusiasm for studying natural science and
understanding the links to human well-being. We tasted new
foods, saw new forests, and learnt a great deal about a com-
pletely different part of the world that we had not previously
experienced. We were made to feel very welcome by every-
one at both sites and were very grateful that our hosts spoke Forest with board walk
English! over wet areas near the
Mukhrino Field Station
Edge of forest near Khanty-Mansiysk field station (Jill Thompson). (Jill Thompson).

Further information
Jill Thompson1 & Mike Smith2
Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Bush Estate, Penicuik, Midlothian,

Scotland, UK
Forest Research, Northern Research Station, Roslin, Midlothian, UK

Condit, R. 1998. Tropical forest census plots: methods and results •
from Barro Colorado Island, Panama and a comparison with
other plots. Springer-Verlag, Berlin, Germany.
Losos, E.C. and Leigh, E.G. (eds) 2004. Tropical forest diversity and-
dynamism: Findings from a large-scale plot network. University
of Chicago Press, USA.

Working with local

We aimed to collate information from local stakeholders and

to test the usefulness of a decision tool, a Bayesian Belief Net-
communities work (BBN), in helping to quantify the ecosystem services of
the Arctic.
to quantify Arctic
ecosystem services Having developed ecosystem services ideas around the Scot-
tish INTERACT site in the Cairngorms National Park (ECN
Ron Smith Cairngorms (• 76)), the sub-Arctic area in Norrbotten Province
(the northernmost province of Sweden) provided a contrast-
ing landscape with very different challenges – a good place
to develop the work further. Abisko (• 11) and Tarfala (• 10)
research stations, with their links both to the ecology and the
social structures in the area, were ideal bases.


Having established the background history of the area, local
experts informed us about current environmental issues from
Representatives of local communities different stakeholder perspectives, i.e. the Swedish Tourist
explained how their lives are linked to the Board and the Naturum (“Nature Room” visitor centre). Both
ecosystems in northern Sweden. A decision institutions at Abisko provided the main inputs on tourism, con-
tool helped construct a snapshot of the servation and the National Park. Other stakeholders included
current situation and probe potential the Kiruna Community Environment Office on regulation and
pressures, providing a way to evaluate planning and the Sámi community on traditional lifestyles. This
trade-offs and empower communities. knowledge was supplemented by very helpful exchanges with

Example Bayesian Belief Network of reindeer herding.

Forestry Migration timing Purchase feed Meat price

Winter survival
Winter length Herd numbers Meat
Numbers slaughtered
Early spring
Heavy snow episodes

Winter disturbance
Calf numbers
Spring disturbance Moose hunts
Summer disturbance
7 Climate Ice cover reduced
• Moose meat
Glacier snow reduced Berries and mushrooms
B&M value

Tourism Hiking increased

staff at the two INTERACT stations. We constructed separate WHY ARE THE RESULTS IMPORTANT?

storylines around the environmental issues of conservation, There are trade-offs in any activity which exploits the environ-
tourism, development regulation and reindeer herding. Inter- ment, from the opening of an area for hiking to the develop-
actions of different groups of people with the environment ment of mineral extraction (promoted as providing substantial
were translated into BBNs, a graphical representation of the income to the local community). However, in the fragile Arctic
dependencies from environmental pressures to human ben- environment with very slow recovery rates, ecological dam-
efits (see example BBN of reindeer herding) which can then age may be long-lasting and potentially irreversible, so care of
be quantified to aid management decisions. A second visit the environment is particularly important. BBNs set within an
allowed us to work with Sámi from other reindeer herding dis- ecosystem services framework clearly helped to identify envi-
tricts, to gain more information about mining activities, and to ronmental issues in Norrbotten Province by using a formal
review the storylines and BBNs with stakeholders – giving us and transparent process. This could provide the people of the
an informal assessment of both the usefulness of the tools and North with a useful tool to take stock of their environment and
the availability of data to quantify the processes. also empower communities to discuss their different interests
and establish compromises.
Stakeholders are using the underlying ideas of the ecosys- THE ADVENTURE
tem services concepts already, though the jargon tends to The two visits to the area were very contrasting experiences.
be a barrier to communication. The BBN diagrams were easy Balmy summer days with long evenings and pleasant walks
to understand and helped stakeholders probe for informa- changed into struggling with ice and slush on a winter’s day,
tion about the processes being described. We had comments but also walking in snowshoes through magnificent sunny
that the whole exercise had enabled them to stand back to snow-bound mountain landscapes with breathtakingly low
consider the entire context of their environmental issues, pro- temperatures. The team’s Arctic journeys brought home the
viding them with a valuable snapshot of the current situation challenges of the landscape and climate, the attraction of the
and potential pressures. Data were readily available for some peaceful isolation contrasting with the hard graft and persis-
ecosystem services and their responses to pressures, but not tence needed to work in these areas. The warm welcome and
for all parts of the diagrams we developed. help from all the people we met enhanced the experience.

Further information
Ron Smith
Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Scotland,


Smith, R. Jonasson, C. Rosqvist, G. and Dick,

J. (in prep.). Identifying ecosystem ser-
vices and decision processes in the North
of Sweden: Case studies at INTERACT
research stations.
Evening over Torneträsk lake from Abisko (Ron Smith).


Train taking tourists back to Stockholm Kiruna with mine workings in the Path damage
(Ron Smith). background (Ron Smith). (Ron Smith).

Adapting to changing permafrost in Salluit, Canada

Christine Barnard, Michel Allard, Emmanuel L’Hérault, Mickaël Lemay & Warwick F. Vincent

The community of Salluit in northern Québec, Nunavik.

The coastal community is nestled in a valley on the shores
of Sugluk Fjord (Emmanuel L’Hérault).

Permafrost is the key factor that makes Arctic lands particularly AIMS OF THE PROJECT
sensitive to climate change. This solid land provides the physical This project focused specifically on: (a) extensively charac-
support for terrestrial ecosystems and it is also the base on which terizing permafrost in Salluit to determine safer areas for
infrastructure such as roads, runways and houses are built. Per- building; (b) determining how thawing permafrost is affect-
mafrost is currently thawing (Section 2) and this now threatens ing man-made infrastructure; and (c) developing adaptation
the integrity of northern municipal, transportation and indus- strategies to address population growth in a changing envi-
trial infrastructure. This requires new engineering designs to ronment.
either preserve permafrost or to adapt infrastructures to loss of
frozen ground, and these have to be applied with increased care WHAT DID WE DO?
and meticulous planning. Climate change comes at a time when Representatives from the community, local government
intense industrial development and fast growing northern pop- and scientists were first brought together to determine the
ulations call for new facilities such as roads, airstrips, seaports, community development needs and gather local knowl-
railways, and housing units. From a sustainable development edge on permafrost to identify instability issues observed
perspective, it is critical that northern communities adopt specific in the village and its surroundings. The next steps involved
adaptation techniques and strategies to deal with warming per- several months of field work to collect the diverse types of
mafrost in order to preserve or expand their infrastructure. data required to create multi-layer maps to ultimately deter-
mine the areas of Salluit that are safer for building. The vari-
The Canadian coastal village of Salluit, situated in northern ables collected during the field work included topographic
Québec (Inuit territory of Nunavik), has a population of approxi- data, geological characteristics, ground-ice conditions, snow
mately 1,350 inhabitants with an expected increase in popula- cover and permafrost landforms. Over 100 boreholes were
tion of up to 2,000 inhabitants by 2025 (Institut de la statistique drilled to map Quaternary deposits over the solid bedrock.
du Québec). Accommodating this increase in population is a Several of the boreholes were used to install thermistor
complex issue to resolve as Salluit lies in the base of the valley
underlain by ice-rich permafrost (saline marine clays or tills)
which are sensitive to thaw and make even gentle slopes unsta-
ble for construction due to the potential risk of landslides. For-
mulated in the double context of rapid population growth and
increasing vulnerability of infrastructure to thawing permafrost,
this project was carried out at the request of the Government of
Québec and funded by several ministries (Transports, Municipal
7 Affairs, and Public Safety). The Kativik Regional Government was
• involved as the indigenous government responsible for commu-
6 nity development. Permafrost and climate specialists, land use
planners, economists, engineers, architects, local authorities and
community members were brought together to develop detailed
maps of permafrost conditions and sensitivity maps, and subse-
quently, a sustainable urban planning strategy. One of the many community consultations held with local
Inuit (Valérie Gratton).

cables to monitor ground temperature and
active layer depths. Frozen cores were extracted
from a series of sites to analyze the subsurface
characteristics. This technique was coupled
with ground–penetrating radar, electrical resistiv-
ity surveys and seismic surveys to complement
data. All of these data were then integrated and
collated in a Geographic Information System (GIS)
application to produce detailed map layers of
permafrost conditions. These map various lay-
ers were superimposed over a high resolution
“hillshade” to create visual representation of
topographic relief and also visualize the town’s
current infrastructures within their environmen-
tal context. Modelling active layer thickness
variations and the permafrost thermal regime
was also done using climate projections of the
Thawing permafrost has major impacts on municipal and residential
Canadian Regional Climate Model produced by
infrastructure (Emmanuel L’Hérault).
Ouranos. Risk management maps were then
generated and were based on a risk index inte-
grating three layers of information: slopes, permafrost condi- a base for permafrost research and community consultations.
tions and zones with severe constraints for construction (such Using a site-optimized foundation design and solar panels,
as wetlands, actively moving ground and zones particularly the CEN station is promoting sustainable land use and devel-
sensitive to thaw). The final step was organizing several multi- opment over thaw-sensitive permafrost. The construction was
disciplinary meetings with community representatives, stake- funded by a federal infrastructure project.
holders and scientists to communicate results, to re-evaluate
needs and potential risks and to make decisions for adapta- WHAT DID WE FIND?
tion and urban development. The meeting also planned the We presented our findings in maps. These maps of construc-
community’s future under the known terrain conditions. tion potential in areas with thawing permafrost are a powerful
tool for policy-makers and managers. They contribute greatly
WHERE DID WE WORK? to the generation of careful urban management plans to 7
In 1998, a massive landslide took place in Salluit prompting ensure the quality and sustainability of northern infrastruc- •
the abandonment of a new housing development project and ture. Furthermore, these maps aid engineers in developing 6
the removal of 20 newly constructed houses. Since then, Sal- new approaches for building infrastructure by providing tools
luit has been extensively surveyed and monitored to deter- that aid in visualizing the impacts of current methods used
mine its actively changing permafrost characteristics. In 2011, to control the effects of snow and water accumulation due to
Centre d’études nordiques (CEN) inaugurated a new INTERACT changing permafrost conditions in the vicinity of transporta-
field station (CEN Salluit Research Station, (• 58)) that serves as tion and municipal infrastructure.


Integrating the information collected

in a Global Information System (GIS)
onto multi-layer maps to create
detailed maps with information on
geology, slope, drainage, etc. Image
created by Emmanuel L’Hérault shows
the geoscience layers used to assess
permafrost conditions under Iqaluit
airport infrastructures, Nunavut.
(Emmanuel L’Hérault).


This project showcases how research has helped a community All the persons involved, be they local residents, community
adapt to change brought about by permafrost in transition. It executives, employees of governments and academia, lived
is ongoing and has been expanded in other Inuit communi- a special personal experience, mainly through listening and
ties in Nunavik and in Nunavut. Building on the long history of sharing concerns not just about the permafrost issues at the
work in this village, research has continued within the ADAPT origin of the problems, but mostly about how to build bet-
project (­Arctic Development and Adaptation to Permafrost in ter living conditions and a more promising environment for
Transition; which focuses on how people. A series of exchanges with the community, including
changing permafrost and snowfall affect landscapes, water conversations on the local FM radio, field outings on snow-
and wildlife, and the implications for northern communities mobiles and camping on the land, and extensive workshops
and industries who depend on these resources. ADAPT brings with elders and school kids took place. The project presented
together laboratories from across Canada and abroad to several fantastic opportunities for the researchers to stay in
examine diverse aspects related to thawing permafrost condi- camps on the land and share country food with the commu-
7 tions in the Arctic. Here we have focused specifically on how nity. At one point, the tragic loss out on the sea ice of three
• thawing permafrost is affecting man-made infrastructure, but hunters, who were our friends in-the-making and actively
6 the ADAPT project also studies the links between changing involved in the community improvement project, was a
permafrost and ecosystems (wildlife and vegetation), micro- reminder of the harsh traditional living conditions of the Inuit
biological processes and greenhouse gas fluxes, and the and the increased dangers resulting from climate warming.
development of permafrost monitoring protocols. The long- Permafrost research with people who are truly engaged is a
term data from Salluit are available via the online data series lifetime human experience for a scientist.
Nordicana D (

Risk management map
Further information
for potential construction
Christine Barnard1, Michel Allard1,2,3, Emmanuel L’Hérault1, Mickaël Lemay1,3 & Warwick F. Vincent1,3,4
development in Salluit. The
various colours identify the 1
 entre d’études nordiques (CEN – Centre for Northern Studies), Université Laval, Québec, Canada
different risk categories for 2
Department of Geography, Université Laval, Québec, Canada
building: green = terrain 3
ArcticNet, Network of Centres of Excellence Canada, Université Laval, Québec, Canada
manageable for construction; 4
Department of Biology, Université Laval, Québec, Canada
yellow = terrain manageable
for construction but may Contact:
require significant earthwork;
dark pink = terrain unsuitable Allard, M. and Lemay, M. (eds) 2012. Integrated Regional Impact Study of Nunavik and Nunatsiavut.
ArcticNet, Québec.
for construction due to slope
Allard, M. and L’Hérault, E. 2010. L’impact des changements climatiques sur la problématique de
or problematic terrain type. la fonte du pergélisol au village de Salluit. Rapport d’étape : Cartographie du potentiel de con-
1) Bedrock and superficial struction de la vallée de Salluit selon les conditions de pergélisol et les pentes. Centre d’études
deposits with no or little ice
content; 2) Ice-rich permafrost
nordiques, rapport au MAMROT, 25 pp.
in superficial deposits. 1) and
Allard, M., Sarrazin, D. and L’Hérault, E. 2014. Borehole monitoring temperatures in northeastern
Canada, v. 1.2 (1988-2014). Nordicana D8, DOI: 10.5885/45291SL-34F28A9491014AFD.

2) are further subdivided CEN 2014. Environmental data from the Salluit Region in Nunavik, Quebec, Canada, v. 1.3 (1987- 6
into their geomorphological 2014). Nordicana D3, DOI: 10.5885/45048SL-4708BCCDFA124359.
characteristiscs in the full Vincent, W.F., Lemay, M., Allard, M. and Wolfe, B.B. 2013. Adapting to permafrost change: A science
version (Derived from Allard and framework. Eos 94:373-375. DOI: 10.1002/2013EO420002.
L’Hérault 2010).


Projects supported by INTERACT Transnational Access 2011-2015

Section 1  Landscapes and land-forming processes

Project First author/ Affiliation Station Stations Reference
Project leader numbers visited
Evaluating radar remote sensing data for Jennifer Sobiech- Alfred-Wegener Institute, 70 ZAC SS 1.1
Arctic tundra landscapes Wolf Helmholtz Center for Polar and
Marine Research, Germany
The impact of glacial erosion on the bedrock Karin Ebert Stockholm University, Sweden 12, 13, 16 KILPIS, KEVO, SS 1.2
plains of northern Fennoscandia KOLARI
Past climate of the Faroe Islands during the Brice R. Rea University of Aberdeen, 75 FINI SS 1.3
Late glacial period Scotland, UK
Moraine internal structure and form Toby N. Tonkin Nottingham Trent University, UK 10 TRS SS 1.4
Outburst flood characteristics of a glacier- Daniel Binder/ ZAMG, Vienna, Austria 70 ZAC SS 1.5
dammed lake in N-E Greenland Wolfgang Schöner
The effects of climate change on air and Nick Pepin University of Portsmouth, UK 11, 13 ANS, KEVO
soil microclimates in areas of complex
A sedimentological investigation of Benedict Reinardy Swansea University, UK 7 FINSE
palaeoglacier dynamics from Midtdalsbreen,
south central Norway
Investigating palaeoenvironments and Bernd Wagner Institute for Geology and 11 ANS
palaeoseismicity in the Abisko area, Mineralogy, Cologne, Germany
N-Sweden using sedimentary records from
The Arctic-alpine parallels in a changing Oleg Pokrovsky Georesources and Environment, 10, 11, 12 TRS, ANS,
climate: permafrost, glaciers, soils and biota Toulouse, France KILPIS
Torneträsk isotope dendroclimatology Neil Loader Swansea University, UK 11 ANS
Peatland ecological and hydrological Lee Brown University of Leeds, UK 11 ANS
dynamics in the Arctic
Impact of the microbial diversity on Christel Baum University of Rostock, Germany 7, 13, 73 FINSE, KEVO,
phosphorus mobilisation and soil organic LBHI
matter stability in biological soil crusts in
alpine and Arctic conditions
Mapping periglacial landforms in the Faroe Ole Humlum University of Oslo, Norway 75 FINI
Effect of vegetation cover on dissolved Luca Bragazza University of Ferrara, Italy 29 MFS
organic carbon in peatlands
Viral and bacterial communities and André-Jean University of Rennes, France 29 MFS
interactions in western Siberian Sphagnum- Francez
Changing flow characteristics and their Petteri Alho University of Turku, Finland 49 KLRS
impacts to river systems in the Arctic: a
combined approach of earth observation
data and simulations

Section 2  Permafrost
Project First author/ Affiliation Station Stations Reference
Project leader numbers visited
The influence of permafrost on glacial Kathryn Adamson Manchester Metropolitan 66 ARCST SS 2.1
meltwater and sediment transfer University, UK
Plant community controls on thawing Esther Dielissen/ Utrecht University, 11 ANS SS 2.2
permafrost soils Bjorn Robroek The Netherlands
Greenhouse gas dynamics in a changing Mathilde Jammet/ University of Copenhagen, 11 ANS SS 2.3
subarctic landscape Thomas Friborg Denmark
Stable isotopes as indicators of Jan Paul Krüger/ University of Basel, Switzerland 11 ANS SS 2.4
environmental change Christine Alewell
Validation of soil moisture data from the Elin Högström Vienna Technical University, 38 SAM SS 2.5
Lena Delta retrieved from satellite Austrian Polar Research Institute,
Permafrost thermal and geocryological state Hanne University of Svalbard, 70 ZAC
in Zackenberg Christiansen Longyearbyen
Thaw-induced mobilization of soil organic Christian Juncher University of Copenhagen, 38 SAM
carbon pools in permafrozen landforms and Jørgensen Denmark
quaternary deposits
Combining field studies and remote sensing Annett Bartsch University of Salzburg, Austria 38 SAM
for analyses of permafrost landscape
Changing permafrost in the high latitude Trofim Maximov Institute for Biological Problems 61 WKRS
areas and its global effects of Cryolithozone of Siberian
Branch of the Russian Academy
of Sciences, Russian Federation

Section 3  Snow and ice
Project First author/ Affiliation Station Stations Reference
Project leader numbers visited
How snow insulates permafrost soils Martin Proksch/ WSL Institute for Snow and 38 SAM SS 3.1
Martin Schneebeli Avalanche Research, Davos,
Black carbon and its radiative impact in a Christina A. Norwegian Polar Institute, 1 SVERDRUP SS 3.2
Svalbard snowpack Pedersen Norway
Adaptations and survival of microorganisms Liane G. Benning University of Leeds, UK 10, 68 TRS, SER SS 3.3
on snow and ice
Glacier monitoring in South-East Greenland Sebastian H. Centre for Scientific Studies, 68 SER SS 3.4
Mernild/Edward Chile
Relationships between glacier dynamics and Gwenn Flowers Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, 49 KLRS SS 3.5
climate Canada
Examining the effect of changes in plateau Clare M. Boston University of Exeter, UK 7 FINSE SS 3.6
icefield mass balance on ice margin retreat
patterns and depositional processes
GPR investigation of a Norwegian glacier’s Adam D. Booth Imperial College London, UK 7 FINSE SS 3.7
marginal ice conditions
Testing hypotheses on the responses of David M. Rippin University of York, UK 11 ANS
small Arctic glaciers to climate change
Mapping of glacial trimlines from multi- Anna Hughes Swansea University, UK 68 SER
spectral satellite imagery, South-East
Quantifying the influence of refreezing melt Wolfgang Schöner University of Graz, Austria 70 ZAC
water on the mass balance and runoff of
Freya Glacier
Structural glaciology and debris transfer of Simon Cook Aberystwyth University, UK 10 TRS
Investigating the maximum Weichselian Laurence Dyke Swansea University, UK 68 SER
ice extent and deglacial history around
Mittivakkat Glacier, Sermilik Fjord, South-
East Greenland
Dating techniques cross calibrating using Vincent University of St. Andrews, UK 66, 68, 70 ARCST, SER,
lichenometry, radiocarbon dating, and Rinterknecht ZAC
surface exposure dating
Glacsweb reconnaissance study Jane K. Hart University of Southampton, UK 7 FINSE
Measuring englacial liquid-water using Charlotte Axtell Swansea University, UK 10 TRS
borehole geophysics at Storglaciären
Examining the effect of changes in plateau Robert Bingham University of Aberdeen, UK 11 ANS
ice field mass balance on ice margin retreat
patterns and depositional processes
Glacial anthropogenic nutrients in SE Andrew J. Hodson Sheffield University, UK 68 SER
Holocene glacial evolution in East Greenland Craig Frew University of Aberdeen, UK 68 SER
determined from pro-glacial sediment
Nitrogen fertilization of oceans by the Jon Telling University of Bristol, UK 68 SER
melting Greenland Ice Sheet
Transitional glaciation in the central Khibiny Lorna Linch University of Brighton, UK 26 KHIBINY
Mountains, Arctic Russia
Laser scanning Tarfala for geomorphological Jonathan Carrivick University of Leeds, UK 10 TRS
characterization and activity analysis
Flute morphometry from photogrammetry Jeremy Ely University of Sheffield, UK 10 TRS
Structural controls and runoff forcing Arctic Tristram Irvine- Aberystwyth University, UK 10 TRS
cryospheric ecosystems Fynn
Spatial impact of outburst floods on the Andreas Wieser Institute of Geodesy and 70 ZAC
A.P. Olsen Ice Cap dynamics (North-East Photogrammetry, Swizerland

Section 4  Land-atmosphere linkages
Project First author/ Affiliation Station Stations Reference
Project leader numbers visited
An energy exchange in the Arctic –A Christian Stiegler/ Lund University, Sweden 67 GINR SS 4.1
“butterfly effect” for the global climate? Anders Lindroth
Patterns of carbon storage in a Siberian Gustaf Hugelius Stockholm University, Sweden 39, 41 SPA, CHO SS 4.2
permafrost landscape
How does increasing CO2 affect soil Dylan Gwynn- Aberystwyth University, UK 11 ANS SS 4.3
microbial diversity and carbon fluxes Jones
Fluxes of volatile organic compounds from Thomas Holst Lund University, Sweden 66 ARCST SS 4.4
plants on Greenland
Controls on volatile organic compound Riikka Rinnan University of Copenhagen, 12, 17 KILPIS, SS 4.5
emissions from northern plants Denmark OULANKA
Effects of long-term environmental change Anders Michelsen University of Copenhagen, 11 ANS
on carbon fluxes and mycorrhizal diversity in Denmark
subarctic heath ecosystems
The effect of temperature on the subsurface Will Manning Newcastle University, UK 66 ARCST
microbial production of greenhouse gases
in the Arctic
Plants in a low CO2 world: development Alexandra Hincke University of Utrecht, 13 KEVO
and validation of botanical and organic The Netherlands
geochemical proxies for the Pleistocene
plant record and reconstructed feedbacks
on the carbon cycle
Impact of Arctic zone on the chemical and Lech Szajdak Polish Academy of Sciences, 29 MFS
biochemical processes, conversions and Poznán, Poland
transformation in peat layers
Functioning of Siberian mire ecosystems Fatima Laggoun- University of Orléans, France 29 MFS
and their response to climate change Defarge
Plant-soil-herbivore interactions in the Arctic Lena Ström Lund University, Sweden 70 ZAC
-feedbacks to the carbon cycle
Plant-soil interactions in a greening Arctic: Thomas Parker University of Stirling, UK 11 ANS
Effects of shrub expansion on carbon cycling
The effect of forest type and microbial Beata Klimek Jagiellonian University, Krakow, 17 OULANKA
characteristics on soil thermal sensitivity Poland
Forecasting Arctic soil microbial Arwyn Edwards Aberystwyth University, UK 11 ANS
communities in 2050
Photodegradation in peat decomposition Bente Foereid University of Abertay Dundee, UK 29 MFS
Changes in soil organic matter and Hans Göransson BOKU, Austria 8, 11 BIOFORSK,
decomposition due to defoliation of ANS
subarctic birch stands by insect outbreaks
Are free amino-acids in soils BIO-indicators Louise C. Andresen University of Gothenburg, 7 FINSE
of climate change effects in ecosystems? Sweden
Greenhouse gas exchange in boreal wetland Ivan Mammarella University of Helsinki, Finland 29 MFS
and freshwater ecosystems: a multi-scale
How climate change may affect the Roxane Andersen University of the Highlands and 29 MFS
composition of Dissolved And Volatile Islands, UK
Organic Carbon Compounds generated by
Arctic Peatlands: the DAVOCCAP project

Section 5  Life on cold lands
Project First author/ Affiliation Station Stations Reference
Project leader numbers visited
Recent influence of climate on shrub growth Allan Buras/ University Greifswald, Germany 7, 13, 75 FINSE, KEVO, SS 5.1
around the North-Atlantic region Marting Wilmking FINI
Patterns of insect herbivory along altitudinal Mikhail Kozlov University of Turku, Finland 26 KHIBINY SS 5.2
gradients in a polar region
Grass seed “hitchhikers” –grass-endophyte Kari Saikkonen National Resources Institute, 8, 13, 66, BIOFORSK, SS 5.3
symbiosis across the latitudes Finland 73, 75 KEVO, ARCST,
Consequence of the climate change on the Baptiste Martinet/ University of Mons, Belgium 10, 11, 48 TRS, ANS, SS 5.4
fate of the Arctic-alpine bumblebees Pierre Rasmont TOOLIK
Is rodent-borne Ljungan virus responsible Heidi Hauffe Research and Innovation Centre, 12 KILPIS SS 5.5
for mortality in migrating Norwegian Fondazione Edmund Mach, Italy
lemmings (Lemmus lemmus)
High Arctic food webs Tomas Roslin University of Helsinki, Finland 70 ZAC SS 5.6
How predator-prey interactions impact Jeroen Reneerkens University of Groningen, 70 ZAC SS 5.7
distribution and breeding systems of high The Netherlands
Arctic waders under current Climate Change
Sex ratio variation in northern Common Cécile Patrelle University of Angers, France 12 KILPIS
Effects of changes in climate and reindeer Åsa Lindgren The Swedish Agricultural 12 KILPIS
management during a century on the University, Umeå, Sweden
vegetation composition in a Fennoscandian
tundra ecosystem
Betula nana leaf growth response to Friederike Wagner- University of Utrecht, 13 KEVO
changing CO2 and growing season length Cremer The Netherlands
Screening cell features of Scots pine on Dieter Eckstein University of Hamburg, Germany 11 ANS
extreme dry and moist sites in northern
Scandinavia for their climatic signals
and their qualification to reconstruct
Geographic variation in functional traits Pawel Olejniczak Institute of Nature Conservation, 7, 11, 12, 13, FINSE, ANS,
of Arctic plants: predicting responses to Polish Academy of Sciences, 17, 68, 75 KILPIS, KEVO,
climate change Poland OULANKA,
Effects of species interactions on the co- Josep Ninot University of Barcelona, Spain 68, 70 SER, ZAC
occurrence, diversity and performance of
Arctic plant species along abiotic stress
Possible range expansion of Plasmodium in Indrikis Krams Daugavpils University, Latvia 12, 13, 17 KILPIS, KEVO,
bird populations of the Northern Europe OULANKA
Spatial variability of winter canopy structure Tim Reid University of Edinburgh, UK 11 ANS
across Arctic forests
Genomics of adaptive variation in Pines Stephen Cavers Centre for Ecology and 29 MFS
Hydrology, UK
Diurnal changes in leaf physiological activity Lea Hallik Estonian University of Life 11, 12, 70 ANS, KILPIS,
during polar day in natural environments Sciences, Tartu, Estonia ZAC
Competition, adaptation and parasitoids of Tea Ammunét Swedish University of Agricultural 8, 12, 13, 16 BIOFORSK,
invasive species in northern communities. Sciences, Uppsala, Sweden KILPIS, KEVO,
Functional relationships between Carex Jan Dick Centre for Ecology and 67, 73 GINR, LBHI
species in subarctic and Arctic environments Hydrology, UK
A functional analysis of microbial diversity in Rien Aerts VU University Amsterdam, 7, 11 FINSE, ANS
subarctic soils The Netherlands
Spatial gradients in physiological Philippe Vernon University of Rennes, France 67, 70, 73, 75 GINR, ZAC,
adaptations and life history variation in LBHI, FINI
Arctic wolf spiders
Changes in the invertebrate community Gert-Jan van Bergerveen Foundation, 29 MFS
along natural and anthropogenic gradients Duinen Nijmegen, The Netherlands
in mires

Pollination biology of Calypso bulbosa and Tiiu Kull Estonian University of Life 17 OULANKA
Epipactis atrorubens in Northern Europe Sciences, Tartu, Estonia
Spider-driven foodwebs in the high Arctic Peter Hambäck Stockholm University, Sweden 70 ZAC
Population dynamics driven by natural Elena L. Zvereva University of Turku, Finland 26 KHIBINY
selection: do changes in frequencies of leaf
beetle phenotypes contribute to density
Impact of grazing on biodiversity Dan Cogalniceanu University Ovidius, Constanta, 16, 17 KOLARI,
Decadal time-scale vegetation changes in Jutta Kapfer Norwegian Forest and Landscape 13, 16 KEVO, KOLARI
the North: climate and land-use effects Institute, Norway
East-Greenland bryophytes – Biodiversity Michael Stech Naturalis Biodiversity Center, 70 ZAC
and importance as herbivore diet Leiden, The Netherlands
Birch genetics in Finland and Scotland James Borrell Queen Mary University of 13 KEVO
London, UK
Development of brown bear scrub tree hair Anja Rudolph Senckenberg Museum, Görlitz, 8 BIOFORSK
snares Germany
Aspen genetic patterns Berthold Heinze Federal Research Centre for 29 MFS
Forests, Switzerland
Parasites explain parthenogenesis in Matthew Tinsley University of Stirling, UK 66 ARCST
extreme environments
Will high-altitude plants go extinct in a Sonja Wipf WSL Institute of Snow and 7, 10 FINSE, TRS
changing climate? Long-term changes of Avalanche Research SLF, Davos,
European mountain flora Switzerland
Grasses and their endophytes in subarctic Marjo Helander University of Turku, Finland 7, 75 FINSE, FINI
Research on alpine plant traits and Harald Pauli Austrian Academy of Sciences, 76 CEH
functionality in the context of climate Institute of Mountain Research,
change Austria
Testing of using lichenicolous fungi as Jana Kocourková Czech University of Life Sciences, 75 FINI
indicators of long term ecological continuity Prague, Czech Republic
in arctic-alpine ecosystems
Serial-sectioning applied to tundra shrubs Agata Buchwal Adam Mickiewicz University, 48, 66, 67, 70 TOOLIK,
for dendrochronological analyses in the high Poznan, Poland ARCST, GINR,
Arctic ZAC
Plant invasions at high altitudes and Ivan Nijs University of Antwerp, Belgium 11 ANS
latitudes: what drives them
Vulnerability of arctic soil microbial Marcin Chodak AGH University of Science and 8, 11 BIOFORSK,
communities to different kinds of stress Technology, Poland ANS
Comparison of related pollen depositions of Helena Svitavska Institute of Botany, Czech 11 ANS
tundra in central-European mountains and Svobodova Academy of Sciences,
in subarctic region Czech Republic
Local adaptation and gene flow in Miriam Bienau Institute of Landscape Ecology 11 ANS
Empetrum hermaphroditum, a keystone and Resource Management,
species of boreal-arctic ecosystems, along an Germany
altitudinal stress gradient
Uptake of insect-derived nitrogen by Francis Q. Brearley Manchester Metropolitan 13, 17 KEVO,
Pinguicula vulgaris assessed using δ15N University, UK OULANKA
stable isotopes
Understanding self-reinforcing feedbacks Juul Limpens Wageningen University, 13 KEVO
of woody invasion under contrasting The Netherlands
permafrost conditions in boreal ecosystems
Shrub expansion in the Arctic: An Stef Weijers University of Bonn, Germany 66 ARCST
experimental and dendroecological analysis
on community level
The forested-to-open bog ecotone in Richard Payne University of Stirling, UK 29 MFS
naturally and artificially forested peatlands

Has synchronicity in tree performance Jordi Voltas University of Lleida, Spain 29 MFS
increased during the last century in
arctic biomes? Testing for continent-wide
dendroecological imprints under global
Postglacial palaeoclimatic and -botanical Leeli Amon- Tallinn University of Technology, 29 MFS
dynamics at the tundra-taiga border-zone of Veskimeister Estonia
West Siberia, Russia
Spectral library of Arctic plants Gareth Rees University of Cambridge, UK 26 KHIBINY
Physiological and molecular adaptations to Jesper Givskov Aarhus University, Denmark 39 SPA
extreme climatic conditions in Pieris rapae Sørensen
Vegetation - permafrost interactions in Monique Heijmans Wageningen University, 41 CHO
a lowland tundra ecosystem: shrub or The Netherlands
graminoid expansion?
Succession of biota after glacier retreats in Alena Lukešová Institute of Soil Biology, Biology 7, 10 FINSE, TRS
subarctic-alpine climate zones Centre ASCR, Czech Republic
Effect of roads on species composition of Małgorzata Jaźwa Jagiellonian University, Poland 8, 17 BIOFORSK,
forests in north-south gradient OULANKA
Constraints in spring advancement of High Theunis Piersma University of Groningen, 70 ZAC
Arctic nesting birds The Netherlands
Climate change and ecosystem functioning Helena Wirta University of Helsinki, Finland 70 ZAC
– a pan-Arctic perspective
Linking plant phenology to plant success in Janet Prevéy WSL Institute for Snow and 47 BEO
a warmer future Avalanche Research SLF, Davos
Dorf, Switzerland

Section 6  Life in cold waters
Project First author/ Affiliation Station Stations Reference
Project leader numbers visited
Reconstructing Holocene temperatures Antony J. Long Durham University, UK 67 GINR SS 6.1
Carbon processing in Arctic lakes when Suzanne McGowan University of Nottingham, UK 66 ARCST SS 6.2
vegetation changes on land
Acidity and origin of dissolved organic Jakub Hruška Czech Geological Survey, Prague, 47 BEO SS 6.3
carbon in different vegetation zones Czech Republic
Finding cold-adapted to combat organic Luigi Michaud University of Messina, Italy 8 BIOFORSK SS 6.4
pollutants in the Arctic (post-humous)
A microbial ride around the Arctic Stefano Ventura National Research Council of Italy 10, 66, 70 TRS, ARCST, SS 6.5
Microbial biodiversity in polar lake Koen Sabbe/Wim Ghent University, Belgium 67, 70 GINR, ZAC SS 6.6
ecosystems: why is it different at the North Vyverman
and South Pole?
Survival strategies of freshwater Martin Kainz Danube University Krems, Austria 12, 13 KILPIS, KEVO
zooplankton in Arctic and Subarctic ponds
Investigating the spatial expression of Daniel Fower University of Portsmouth, UK 12, 13, 16, 17 KILPIS, KEVO,
millennial-scale Holocene climate changes: a KOLARI,
multi-proxy lake sediment approach, Finnish OULANKA
Winter survival strategies of freshwater Maren Striebel Wasser Cluster Lunz, Austria 12 KILPIS
zooplankton in subarctic ponds and
plankton diversity and stability in aquatic
food webs
Understanding the natural environmental Gary Bilotta University of Brighton, UK 13, 73 KEVO, LBHI
and climatic controls on baseline fluxes of
suspended particulate matter in freshwater
Comparing late Holocene climate changes Daniel Nývlt Czech Geological Survey, Brno, 8, 67 BIOFORSK,
in low and high Arctic regions using lake Czech Republic GINR
sediments and annual rings of dwarf tundra
shrubs records
Solar convection and lateral currents under Georgiy Kirillin Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater 12 KILPIS
lake ice cover Ecology and Inland Fisheries,
Berlin, Germany
Nutrient fluxes and biotic communities in Alexander Milner University of Birmingham, UK 49, 70 KLRS, ZAC
Arctic rivers with different water source
Hydrological niches on a Siberian floodplain David Gowing Open University, Milton Keynes, 29 MFS
Trophic interactions, temperature and Anders G. Finstad Norwegian Institute for Nature 70 ZAC
greening in a changing climate Research, Norway
Microbial and geochemical insights into Jorien Vonk Utrecht University, 11 ANS
Lake Torneträsks sediment archive The Netherlands
The influence of rainfall and soil runoff Carina Rofner University of Innsbruck, Austria 12 KILPIS
events on freshwater bacterial composition
during polar days vs. day/night cycles
Sponge associated culturable microbiome Maurizio Azzaro Institute for Coastal Marine 8 BIOFORSK
able to degrade persistent organic pollutant Environment, Italy
along the Pasvik River and the Bokfjorden
Arctic ostracods and copepods of the Sanda Iepure IMDEA Water, Madrid, Spain 10 TRS
hyporheic zone in Swedish Lapland –
assemblages’ resilience and shell chemistry
Microbes in the carbon cycle of subarctic Sari Peura Evolutionary Biology Centre, 61 WKRS
thermokarst ponds Uppsala, Sweden
Biocomplexity of microbial mats. A bipolar Antonio Quesada Universidad Autonóma de 61 WKRS
perspective Madrid, Spain

Section 7  People in the North
Project First author/ Affiliation Station Stations Reference
Project leader numbers visited
Dynamic risk management for Arctic Sven Fuchs University of Natural Resources 26 KHIBINY SS 7.1
mountain regions and Life Sciences, Vienna, Austria
Mapping and valuing ecosystem services in Pierpaolo Franzese Partnenope University of Naples, 11 ANS SS 7.2
the Abisko area Italy
Ecosystem service social assessments in Daniel Orenstein Technion –Israel Institute of 76 CEH SS 7.3
extreme environments Technology, Israel
Assessment of boreal forest ecosystem Jill Thompson/ Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, 29, 39 MFS, SPA SS 7.4
services at two Russian sites Mike Smith Scotland, UK
Working with local communities to quantify Ron Smith Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, 10, 11 TRS, ANS SS 7.5
Arctic ecosystem services Scotland, UK
Adapting to changing permafrost in Salluit, Christine Barnard Centre d’ études Nordiques, 58 SALLUIT SS 7.6
Canada Université Laval, Québec, Canada
Dividing up Greenland? Kees Bastmeijer Tilburg University, 67 GINR
The Netherlands
Soil biota community and diversity as Yosef Steinberger Bar-Ilan University, Israel 17 OULANKA
bioindicators to the impact of ecotourism in
a subarctic ecosystem

  1 SVERDRUP Sverdrup Research Station Svalbard

  7 FINSE Finse Alpine Research Centre Norway
  8 BIOFORSK Bioforsk Svanhovd Research Station Norway
10 TRS Tarfala Research Station Sweden
11 ANS Abisko Scientific Research Station Sweden
12 KILPIS Kilpisjärvi Biological Station Finland
13 KEVO Kevo Subarctic Research Station Finland
16 KOLARI Kolari Research Unit Finland
17 OULANKA Oulanka Research Station Finland
26 KHIBINY Khibiny Educational and Scientific Station Russian Federation
29 MFS Mukhrino Field Station Russian Federation
38 SAM Research Station Samoylov Island Russian Federation
39 SPA Spasskaya Pad Scientific Forest Station Russian Federation
41 CHO Chokurdakh Scientific Tundra Station Russian Federation
47 BEO Barrow Arctic Research Center/ Barrow Environmental Observatory US
48 TOOLIK Toolik Field Station US
49 KLRS Kluane Lake Research Station Canada
58 SALLUIT CEN Salluit Research Station Canada
61 WKRS CEN Whapmagoostui-Kuujjuarapik Research Station Canada
66 ARCST Arctic Station Greenland
67 GINR Greenland Institute of Natural Resources Greenland
68 SER Sermilik Research Station Greenland
70 ZAC Zackenberg Research Station Greenland
73 LBHI Litla-Skard Iceland
75 FINI Faroe Islands Nature Investigation Faroe Islands
76 CEN ECN Cairngorms Scotland, UK

On-line course and video lectures: The Changing Arctic

This book, “INTERACT Stories of Arctic Science”, forms the basis of an on-line course
with a series of video lectures arranged by Lektorium of St. Petersburg and Tomsk
State University, Russia, together with the University of the Arctic.

The course “The Changing Arctic” presents a range of topics from the forefront of
Arctic science including landscape formation, permafrost dynamics, glaciology,
land-atmosphere links, and ecology on land and in freshwaters. The final lectures
discuss the implications of change for the People of the No